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AISH

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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Sun 12 Jan 2014, 11:14 pm

The Death of Ariel Sharon
I didn’t know how deep Sharon’s love was for Israel and the Jewish people.
by Sara Debbie Gutfreund        
When Ariel Sharon first went into a coma in 2006, I remember thinking how eerie it was that it was just months after Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. Could Sharon see what was happening now somehow in his coma? Would he wake up and recognize it as a mistake? I kept waiting for him to wake up one day, transform back into a war hero, and say: I don’t know, let’s rebuild all those homes.

Every now and then there would be a news item that there had been some brain activity in response to his sons’ voices, and I would wonder about his coma. Where exactly was Sharon? Was he here, seeing everything going on around him but locked within himself? Or was he maybe halfway to the next world, seeing this world from a distance? Either way, eight years is a long time to be in a coma. So I was surprised when I felt a wave of sadness wash over me when I heard of his death yesterday - because for many of us, he had really been gone since 2006.
Sharon was a powerful, committed leader for the Jewish people for so many years (though he left many of us disappointed in his last years). From his early years working in the Haganah to protect Kibbutzim, to his leading an elite commando group for the first time in 1953, Sharon risked his life to protect our people.
In 1967, he was the major general of the army during the Six Day War, and commanded troops on the Egyptian front. When Israel won the Six Day War, Sharon went straight to the Kotel and called out the Shema, thanking God for the miraculous victory.
In 1973, Sharon served as a reservist-general, commanding troops that helped rout Egyptian forces in the Yom Kippur War. A photo of Sharon in the desert, dressed in his army uniform with his head bandaged, became the most famous picture of the war.
Eventually Sharon was elected prime minister in 2001. Soon after, he ordered strikes against Palestinian security installations to fight against the rising terrorism. Sharon did not back down during the terrifying intifada, defending Israel’s right to protect its citizens.
These quotes reveal the depth of Sharon’s love for Israel and the Jewish people during his years of leadership:
“I am the last person who would divide Jerusalem. I have said this many times. I don’t plan to discuss any division of Jerusalem.”
“Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly, no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the State of Israel on trial.”
“For me, peace should provide security for the Jewish people.”
“As long as I’m needed. I’ll be ready to serve. I look forward with optimism. We need the Jews here. Move to Israel! Move to Israel!”
“I was born on a farm. My strength has nothing to do with political apparatus. I get my strength from nature, from flowers.”
“There is no bulletproof vest in my size.”

I didn’t know how deep Sharon’s love was for Israel and the Jewish people. And I didn’t know about his personal suffering: his only sibling, a sister who moved to New York and hardly ever spoke to Sharon again. How Sharon married his childhood sweetheart, Margalit, and lost her in a tragic car accident when their son was just five years old. And how six years after his first wife’s death, their son Gur was accidentally shot by a friend who was playing with a rifle in their yard. (His son died in his arms on the way to the hospital.) And I didn’t know that he lost his second wife to cancer in 2000. So much pain. So much I just didn’t know when I thought about Ariel Sharon.
But what I do know is that Sharon was a hero and a fighter for our nation. He was a proud Jew who shouted the Shema at the Kotel after the Six Day War. He lost close friends in battle and suffered many personal losses throughout his life. And he never gave up. He may have made mistakes. But he never gave up on the Jewish people. He wanted to serve for as long as he was needed. And he did. And so we thank you, Ariel Sharon, for your dedication and your courage. We thank you for your willingness to fight back against terrorism and for your strong stance on Jerusalem.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Sun 05 Jan 2014, 4:45 pm

Good Riddance Day
A new custom for removing trash from your life echoes the burning of chametz before Passover. The similarity is no accident.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

There’s a fairly new tradition in New York for the transition from one year to the next. It’s called Good Riddance Day, and we just witnessed its seventh annual observance.
Tim Tompkins, head of the Times Square Alliance, explained “It’s a great idea for all of those who treasure an opportunity to physically destroy reminders of negative events of the past year and to symbolically move forward to better days ahead.” And sure enough, New Yorkers turned out in droves to Midtown Manhattan just before New Year’s with their own individual and highly unique ways of commemorating a day dedicated to removing the trash from their lives and for expressing their contempt for the most harmful items of the past.
Good riddance to those aspects of our lives we want to discard.
Some used the moment to burn the letters from unfaithful spouses. There were the parents who shredded the-year-old medical diagnosis of their son’s kidney cancer which has now thankfully gone into total remission. Then there were those who brought documents they wanted to destroy, like medical bills, and objects they wanted to smash with a mallet, as a way to vengefully say goodbye to the troubles of the past year. What all of them shared was a cry of good riddance to those aspects of their lives they visibly wanted to discard, a commitment to keeping bad memories from interfering with the future.
Something like this has been part of Jewish tradition for thousands of years.

Jews are doubly blessed when it comes to New Years. We observe one in the fall, on Rosh Hashanah, commemorating the birth of mankind. We have another in the spring, when the calendar marks the month of Nissan, which the Torah refers to as the first month, because of its association with the Exodus from Egypt and the birth of the Jewish people. Passover is the holiday that commemorates this beginning, and it is preceded on the morning of the night of the Seder with a symbolic burning that resonates powerfully with the theme of Good Riddance Day.
On Passover Jews are commanded to eat matzah and are forbidden not only to eat leavened bread but to have the smallest crumb in their home or possession as well. Bread is something that needs to be totally renounced. Whatever is left over before Passover begins must be ceremoniously burned and verbally negated. Jews recite: “All leavened bread that is in my possession which I have seen or not seen, may it be nullified and rendered ownerless as the dust of the earth.”
What is this sudden aversion to bread all about? What does the food we normally consider the staff of life suddenly represent that is so reprehensible? Traditional commentators have offered various symbolic suggestions, comparing yeast to the evil inclination and bread that “has risen” to the sin of excessive pride.
Allow me to offer another possible, novel interpretation.
Historians tell us sourdough is the oldest and most original form of leavened bread and the oldest recorded use of sourdough is from the Ancient Egyptian civilizations1. Archaeological evidence confirms that yeast – both as a leavening agent and for brewing ale – was initially used in Egypt. Food historians generally agree that the land of the Nile, biblically known for its enslavement of the Hebrews, must be credited with the remarkable technological achievement that was to play such a crucial role in the progress of civilization.

Egypt’s expertise brought the world a great gift of nourishment and sustenance. Yet its “scientific breakthrough” was not matched by moral progress. The inventors of bread remained barbaric masters of slaves. The very people who discovered the staff of life didn’t hesitate to serve as the agents of death for the Hebrew children they drowned in the Nile.
It was a profound lesson about the disconnect between science and ethics that mankind learned millennia ago – and not much has changed to this day. In our own times, Albert Einstein famously warned us that “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” And he wisely cautioned us that “Our entire much-praised technological progress and civilization generally could be compared to an axe in the hand of a pathological criminal.”
Martin Luther King put it beautifully when he said, “We have reached a time when we have advanced enough to have guided missiles, yet we still remain primitive enough to have misguided men.” Technology has blessed us with smart phones but left us with stupid people in terms of ethical and honorable values.
Perhaps the burning of chametz is meant to publicize this great dichotomy between mankind’s achievements and its propensity to continue to embrace acts of evil. As the Hebrews were about to be freed from slavery they were to symbolically rid themselves of Egypt’s great technological innovation of bread to demonstrate that scientific progress divorced from a moral code needs condemnation, rather than unqualified praise and acceptance.
A world of nuclear giants is a dangerous place when filled with ethical infants.
Every year on the eve of Passover Jews have a Good Riddance Day. The “villain” isn’t bread but what it came to represent to the Jews in ancient Egypt - a powerful symbol of intellectual progress by their oppressors, devoid of any humanitarian concern for those they oppressed. The pioneering Egyptians ate bread; their slaves, never granted the dignity of human beings created in the divine image, were forced to eat matzah, the bread of affliction.
It is a message that bears repetition more frequently than in the context of the pre-Passover ritual.
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Those who came to the New Year’s Eve ceremony in Manhattan who didn’t bring items to destroy were encouraged to write down the things they wished could be eliminated from our future. Entries ranged from pop culture references – “Miley Cyrus’s fame” – to the serious: “cancer,” “war,” “human trafficking,” “poverty.”
All of these surely deserve inclusion. Allow me to add one more: “Technology without values, progress without prudence.” Because a world of nuclear giants is a dangerous place when filled with ethical infants.
1. Cambridge World History of Food, Kenneth F. Kiple and Kriemhild Conee Ornelas, Vol. 1 [Cambridge University Press] 2000 (p 619-620)
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Thu 02 Jan 2014, 3:46 pm

Gratitude Leads to Happiness
How to bring the gratitude attitude into our homes and daily lives.
by Emuna Braverman        
“It is not happy people who are thankful; it is thankful people who are happy.”
A friend of mine posted this anonymous quote on Facebook the other day.  It dovetailed neatly with the recent Wall Street Journal piece “Raising Children with an Attitude of Gratitude” by Diana Kapp (12/23/2013).
Gratitude leads to happiness.  According to a study of teens that is cited in the article, it also leads to stronger GPA’s, less depression, less envy and a more positive outlook. To get our adolescents to behave like that, most of us would do just about anything.
But we don’t have to. It turns out that all we need to do is model gratitude ourselves (which will lead to the benefit of greater personal happiness regardless of how it impacts our teens!).
However “all we have to do” may be more difficult than it sounds.  May of us may not be in the habit of expressing gratitude. In fact, we may actually be in the habit of expressing frustration, complaints, and a sense of entitlement (where do you think our kids got it from?).
So of course we are the ones that need to change first. We are the ones who need to make gratitude and appreciation a regular part of our lives.  We are the ones who must develop the “gratitude attitude.”
It is not enough to think it or feel it.  To make it real, even just for ourselves, we need to say it out loud. Likewise, if we want to model it for our children.
“Thank you for making such a delicious dinner tonight” (to the designated cook in the home).
“Thank you for going to the store for me.”
“I really appreciate that you folded my laundry.”
“Thanks for taking us on that vacation.  It was really special.”
“Wow.  What an awesome sunset the Almighty made for us.”
“We are so lucky to live in this house in this neighborhood.”
“It was really the Almighty’s kindness that brought us to this community.”
Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (to quote one of my favorite musicals).
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Yes, some of this sounds awkward. Some of it sounds artificial. You need to find your own words. And it takes practice – lots of it.
Changing behavior isn’t easy.  Enlist your family in the effort.  Ask them to help identify what to be grateful for, who to thank, what to notice and appreciate. It will impact all of you.
Sometimes gratitude is difficult because we don’t like to acknowledge our debts; we like to feel we did it on our own.  But we can’t do anything without the help of others (that proverbial “village”) and certainly not without the Almighty’s help. He deserves the biggest thanks of all. And once we’re grateful to our Creator, we will also be grateful to His creations.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Thu 02 Jan 2014, 3:36 pm

AFFLUENZA
SHOCKING! 
Have money, avoid prison – and responsibility.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nsUTXofomc
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Thu 02 Jan 2014, 3:24 pm

Michelangelo & the Meaning of the New Year
5774 or 2014? The theological debate behind the artist’s masterpiece.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech        
Of all the masterpieces created by Michelangelo surely none is more universally acclaimed than his fresco on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel depicting the creation of Adam.
What most people don’t know, however, is the fascinating story behind Michelangelo’s choice of subject matter – a decision motivated by the artist’s disagreement with the Pope of his time that has relevance to this day as we welcome a new year on what is commonly called the secular calendar.

Together with most of the Western world, we will start dating our checks and our schedules with the indication that we have moved on from 2013 to 2014. As part of a much larger society’s way of noting the passage of time, I too simply have no choice, even though it doesn’t agree with my reckoning. For me it is now 5774 on the Hebrew calendar. And this discrepancy points to a profound difference of perspective about God and about the meaning of history.
Jews and Judaism are the ones who brought the concept of monotheism to the world. One God created the entire world and all those who inhabit it. The first human being was created in His image and all those who came after carry within them this mark of divinity.
The concept of universalism is intrinsic to the biblical story of creation.
Why did God begin the story of mankind by creating only one person? The Talmud answers so that no man should be able ever to say to his fellow man, “my father is greater than your father” (Sanhedrin 37a). We are all related. One father for all people on earth makes everyone brothers and sisters in the truest sense of the word. Adam was not just one man – he was every man. Christian and Jew, black and white, American and Asian – we are all created by God “in his image.” 
The concept of universalism is intrinsic to the biblical story of creation. And that is why Judaism maintains that the record of history must mark the beginning of time from the creation of Adam. It is humanity that gives meaning to creation.

Our calendar does not start counting years from the birth of Abraham, no matter how significant his life might be as our first patriarch. Nor do we claim that the past only becomes worthy of recognition from the time we became a people or even from the moment we received the Torah at Sinai. The year is now 5774. It is the number of years that frame the shared years of the human family.
But that is not the message of the calendar year 2014, whose meaning is steeped in a theological concept. 2014 chooses the birth of Jesus as the moment which offers all subsequent history meaning. By beginning the count of years with this event, there is a clear statement made: What happened before is insignificant.
Christianity replaced a Judaic calendar rooted in a universalistic vision with a particularistic view. Christianity for the longest time taught that salvation can only be achieved through acceptance of Jesus.
Michelangelo’s Defiance of the Church
And that’s where Michelangelo came into the picture.
It was in the early part of the 16th century that Pope Julius the second, wanting to leave an everlasting legacy of his papacy, commissioned Michelangelo to beautify the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. His instructions were clear. He told the prominent artist he wanted frescoes painted that would illustrate the illustrious lives of Jesus and Mary.
Michelangelo had other plans. To achieve them he had to employ a daring ruse. He accepted the task only on condition that no one be allowed to interfere with his work while it was still in progress. To ensure that no one was able to view what he was doing during the 4 ½ years it took to complete the entire project, he had a canvas placed underneath him as he worked on a 60-foot high scaffolding, ostensibly to prevent any dripping of paint to the floor.
Michelangelo completely disregarded the Pope’s orders. 95% of its themes were taken from the Jewish Bible.
When the time came for unveiling his masterpiece, the Pope was dismayed to see that Michelangelo had completely disregarded his orders.The Sistine Chapel ceiling has no Jesus or Mary, nor for that matter any New Testament figures. 95% of its themes are taken from the Jewish Bible, and 5% are pagan!
How Michelangelo was able to get away with his life in the aftermath of his open disobedience to a papal mandate is a fascinating story in its own right, which I develop at great length in the book I co-authored with Roy Doliner, The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo’s Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican. What I want to clarify here is Michelangelo’s motivation.
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As a young boy, Michelangelo was adopted by Lorenzo de Medici, probably the wealthiest man in the world at the time. Because of his obvious brilliance, Michelangelo was granted the same tutors as those who taught Lorenzo’s own sons. The most prominent of these tutors was Pico della Mirandola, recognized not only for his genius but for his commitment to universalistic ideas and ideals that were far from commonly accepted in his time. Pico acknowledged that many of his views were shaped by his study of Torah and Jewish texts, and these - as well as his great interest in Kabbalah - he passed on to Michelangelo.

Michelangelo’s commission had been to have the Sistine Chapel ceiling convey the same concept as the Christian calendar: history begins with Jesus. But Michelangelo could not allow the reality of mankind’s common beginning, the spirit of universalism that infuses the first chapter of Genesis, to be rendered mute in the most famous of the church’s chapels. And so Michelangelo dared to feature most prominently in his frescoes the stories of the opening chapters of the Bible, beginning with the creation of Adam.
That is how perhaps the most famous painting of Western art came into being. If Michelangelo had to choose the date for this year he would likely agree that 5774 is preferable to 2014.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Fri 27 Dec 2013, 5:58 pm

Va'eira(Exodus 6:2-9:35)
God? Who is God!?
The story is well-known: The Jews want to leave Egypt, so God sends 10 fierce plagues ... and Pharaoh's opposition is adamant.
How is it possible that Pharaoh could fail to recognize the obvious deeds of God Almighty Himself?!
Pharaoh epitomizes denial of God. This is evident from Exodus 5:1, the first meeting between Moses and Pharaoh, where Moses utters the immortal words: "Let My People Go!" Pharaoh responds with bewilderment: "Who is God that I should listen to him? I don't know this God!"
The purpose of the plagues, therefore, is to announce that God is running the show. Once and for all, loud and clear.
The 10 plagues are actually a progression, a process bringing Pharaoh to a recognition of God. Consider:
The first plague turns the Nile River into blood. Why? Because Pharaoh had been promoting himself as a deity who created the Nile, as he says, "I am the river and I created it" (Ezekiel 29:3). Pharaoh goes to such extents to preserve his godly image that he sneaks down to the river alone to relieve himself; hence God tells Moses to "pay a call on Pharaoh in the morning, when he goes out to the water..." (Exodus 7:15)
Moses turns the Nile into blood but Pharaoh is not impressed. His magicians are called in and they do the same. God might be a good magician, thinks Pharaoh, but He's not out of my league!
God of Nature
As the plagues continue, Pharaoh is moved along a process of increasing recognition of who God is. When Moses brings the plague of lice, Pharaoh calls upon his magicians to reproduce the phenomenon, but they can't. "'It is the finger of God,' say the magicians to Pharaoh." (Exodus 8:14)
Why were they unable to make lice? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 67) says because magic has no power over something tiny.
Like modern science today, Pharaoh's magicians can gather and manipulate existing energy, but they can't create the building-blocks of life itself. No matter how small a particle is discovered, there is always a foundation of smaller particles below that.
When Pharaoh's magicians say "It is the finger of God," they refer to God by the name of Elokim, which represents the power of God acting through nature. (Elokim has the numerical value of 86, which is the same as "HaTeva" - nature.) Pharaoh and his men had advanced one huge step along the continuum. They recognized God as the force controlling nature. But this was not sufficient. Pharaoh still refuses to let the Jews go. He wants to play hardball with God.
One Step Closer
The climax of our Parsha is the plague of hail, where Egyptian resources are totally wiped out. Every tree is smashed, and every man and animal caught outdoors is killed (Exodus 9:25). As Pharaoh stands amidst the rubble of a country in ruins, he now declares, "I am wrong and God is right." This time Pharaoh refers to God by the ineffable YKVK - the transcendent aspect of God that we cannot comprehend.
It took a lot of pounding over the head, but Pharaoh has finally matured in his recognition of God.
Yet somehow, miraculously, he still refuses to let the Jews go. How great is the human ego and the power of rationalization!
God's Awesome World
In many respects, Pharaoh's process is our process, too. When we are children, we think we are the center of the universe. Then, through experience and trials, we become increasingly aware of things beyond our control. Whether earthquakes, cancer, the rise and fall of fortunes, even life and death itself... these can only be ascribed to a Higher Power.
In short, life is a series of such recognitions. But sometimes we get confused, we forget, and slip back in the continuum.
Why? Because with each technological advancement, we sense the unlimited potential of man. The 4-minute mile. A robot to Mars. Cell phones and the internet. We are in awe of what is humanly possible.
But where is our awe of that which only God is possible?! Gravity... eyesight... ant farms...
Lessons Today
The commentators say that the 10 plagues were not only for the sake of Pharaoh. They were for the Jews as well. To watch and to absorb the lessons of who God is. That training is a prerequisite to the coming revelation at Sinai.
We've all got to reach that recognition. One way or the other, Pharaoh is going to acknowledge God and let the Jews go. The only question is whether Pharaoh's route to that end will be in cooperation with God, or in opposition.
The Talmud says that "each person must see himself as if he personally came out of Egypt." Our lives are filled with messages from the Almighty, designed to teach us His ways and draw us near. He has a plan, and we have the choice: To fit in, or to be cut out. The choice is clear if we only open our eyes.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Tue 10 Dec 2013, 10:15 pm

True Colors
Like autumn leaves, when times are tough, our true colors come out.
by R. Weiner        
Dry leaves crackling under the soles of my shoes remind me of my Grandma’s story from the Holocaust. With the start of autumn, Grandma would retell her story with such passion. Here is her tale.
“I was 14 years old on that autumn morning when the Gestapo came to get my father. Being his firstborn, I always had a special connection with my father. As the Nazis made their way through our tiny apartment, they yanked drawers from chests and tossed its contents on the floor, searching for valuables. Simultaneously, they ordered our family of five to stand against our kitchen wall, lest we run to grab our valuables. Frankly, we had no valuables in the monetary sense. Dad was a meager breadwinner. He did, however, own some Judaica he had inherited from his father. But these were rendered useless by the Nazis.

As we stood by the wall on that fateful morning, we spotted dried autumn leaves on our kitchen floor. The Gestapo officers must have dragged them in on their boots.
“You see that leaf,” Dad said in a hushed whisper. “That’s a leaf in its natural state. It’s only because of chlorophyll that it looks green during spring and summer. And when its chlorophyll is gone, when it begins to fade or die, its true colors come to light. Likewise with human beings. When times are tough, when life does not offer a bed of roses, true colors come out.”
I heard Dad’s words and tried to grasp the meaning of it. At the age of 14, however, I failed to understand the depth of these words which eventually altered my outlook on life.
Dad was taken from us on that autumn day and was never heard of again.
Not much later I found myself in a labor camp with other girls my age. I had been a weak child by nature, always unable to provide physical help around the house. And now I was instructed to assist in building airplanes. I knew I could not confess my physical weakness; I’d be put to death.
Days and weeks passed and I was emaciated and spent from my job and lack of food. Sara, the girl sleeping next to me, was assigned to work that morning and I was given a few hours off from work. Sara was a ‘living corpse’. Her rib cage was visible through her translucent skin. I was convinced that one more day of work would render Sara dead.
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Then I remembered Dad and the autumn leaves – that their true colors shine when fading.

I too felt like a fading autumn leaf. My true colors were becoming visible. I was desperate to spend my break from work in my so-called bed. But recollecting Dad’s words made me equally desperate to shine in those very difficult days. So I summoned the last bit of energy left in me and told Sara that I would pretend to be her and take her place at the factory. I entered the plant that morning and did her job for the day, giving Sara the opportunity to gather the minimal strength she needed to survive. “

Although Grandma is not with us anymore, when I hear the autumn leaves crunching under my shoes, I can hear her telling her story. It altered my outlook on life. When life becomes difficult, I know that I’m provided with a unique opportunity to shine in ways otherwise impossible, like a fading autumn leaf revealing its true colors.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Tue 10 Dec 2013, 9:47 pm

http://www.aish.com/sp/so/From-Mountain-Mama-to-Yiddishe-Mama.html
From Mountain Mama to Yiddishe MamaFrom Mountain Mama to Yiddishe Mama
The true story of an Appalachian family of 12 who converted to Judaism.
by Penina Neiman
Sheryl Youngs was born into a devout family of Sabbath-observing Christians, adherents of the Church of God 7th Day. Her father, Brother Victor Youngs, was the pastor of their church, a charismatic leader who conducted many baptismal ceremonies over the years. He had but one little congregant who stubbornly refused to be baptized; his daughter Sheryl.
At the age of 16 she finally succumbed to familial pressure and allowed herself to be baptized. When asked to sign the baptismal certificate that stated a lifelong pledge to serve as a “flowering vine of their Savior,” she refused. She did not want to sell herself out to a religion that she was less than 100% sure was the truth.
A questioning teen
Sheryl was a questioning teen, intuitively searching for knowledge of her Creator.

“When I was 14, I attended a youth camp with a group from our church. One night, everyone sat around a campfire, singing and praying. Somehow, the very beauty of the service did not satisfy me; if anything, it only intensified the relentless yearning within me. I wanted something more.
Chapter 2: The Youngs Family: Left to right,k back row: me, my mother and my fatherChapter 2: The Youngs Family: Left to right,k back row: me, my mother and my father
“I walked up a wooded hill and peered up at the heavens spread out above the towering pine trees. The flickering stars felt so close; I felt deeply connected to God. Deep within, a new thought welled up. God, Creator of the magnificent heavens above me, was surely great enough to hear my prayers. I said to myself, ‘If the God of the universe is so powerful as to make these heavens, then I know that He can listen to my prayer. I need no mediator! From now on, I am only going to pray to God Himself!’”1

Sheryl was a voracious reader, passionately devouring book after book in her quest for knowledge of God and her purpose in the world. It was the following words of Tolstoy that got her thinking, “’These are the great questions of life that everyone has to answer; is there a God? Is there life after death? Is there reward and punishment? What’s the purpose of life?’ These questions fueled my desire for more knowledge. The more I read, the more I realized that there was much more to know. I began to keep a list of books that I was determined to track down and read. My father once joked that I reminded him of an alcoholic pining for a drink, and there was truth to his words. I read like a man possessed, devouring book after book in my search for answers.”
Although she had many questions, Sheryl was afraid to express her concerns. She began to search for answers within the context of different branches of Christianity, but in every church she encountered new practices and beliefs that went against her perception of God.
Her genteel anti-Semitism and mistrust of Jews kept her from taking a serious look at Judaism.
Upon entering college she resolved to study all the religions of the world. The society she’d come from had given her a genteel anti-Semitism and a mistrust of Jews, which kept her from taking a serious look at Judaism. She resolved instead to study the Koran, but was unable to understand it.
Bible College
She decided to continue her education at the Midwest Bible College in Missouri, which proved to be a turning point in her life. It was at Bible College that Sheryl met John Massey, a Bible scholar and the man she would marry.
“As a teenager, I had struggled with doubts and fears about religion, but the… reaction that Christianity exerted upon questioners who thought out of the box kept me from ever verbalizing my troubling thoughts. For years I turned them over and over in my mind as I continued my lonely search for answers. Ironically, it was at missionary college that I came upon the first few holes in my belief system. There, I learned that the New Testament had evolved out of a collection of letters that mere men decided to write – men who had not even claimed to have received prophecy.

“And it was in missionary college, at the age of 19, that I finally found someone I could talk to… One summer night, [my friend and teacher] Jewell and I stood together under the oak trees in front of her home. We were talking about the Bible, and Jewell told me that she was troubled by our religion’s practice of extracting just a few commandments from the Old Testament while ignoring all the rest. Her words struck a chord. I had grappled with this question for years. This was the first time I had ever heard anyone verbalize it.”
It was also Jewell who first suggested that Sheryl date John Massey. Before long the two were engaged and had decided to establish their home in Georgia near John’s parents.
Moving to Appalachia
It was there that Sheryl received the shock of her life. Although she had realized that her in-laws lived a simpler life than what she had been accustomed to back in Southern California, she hadn’t realized the full extent of the difference until after her wedding.
Chapter 4: The boys with their father at the sawmillChapter 4: The boys with their father at the sawmill
She had envisioned living in a pleasant farmhouse with a white picket fence. Instead, home was a little room at the back of her in-laws’ house deep in the Appalachian Mountains. This was the 1970’s, and Sheryl now had to get used to a home with no indoor plumbing, a place where a soothing hot shower was an impossible luxury and outhouses were the norm.

Back in school John presented the perfect picture of a modern man. He cut a smart image in his suit and drove a nice car. Sheryl had every reason to believe that he was used to the same middle class standards that she was. Having grown up in the ’60’s, Sheryl had a bit of an anti-materialistic mentality, and was not all that alarmed by the thought of “roughing it.” Yet the beginning of her married life was challenged by the great cultural differences she now confronted at every turn. The new slow-paced life style she was introduced to as they began their family amongst the mountain folk was light years away from anything Sheryl had ever imagined.
Chapter 9: A family in transitionChapter 9: A family in transition
Sheryl had been trained since childhood not to complain, and had learned that it was best not to feel at all. Her parents believed that children were inherently evil and were firm believers in corporal punishment. Her father’s disciplinary measures would likely be considered quite harsh by today’s standard. She had also been taught that it was her duty to submit to the will of her husband. So although she was bewildered by her new circumstances, she never thought to challenge her husband.
Sheryl worked hard to fit in and accept her new life. In time she learned how to haul water up from the well, build a fire, make Granny’s butter milk biscuits, and butcher the freshly killed deer that her sons brought home for dinner.
A homeschooling pioneer
Walker County, Georgia, where John and Sheryl raised their family, was known for its impoverished and unsuccessful public school system. Sheryl never met anyone in those parts with a college education; the vast majority of adults had never even finished grade school and 40% of the county was illiterate. Sheryl was determined to homeschool her children, a decision she had made in response to her own exposure to the loose moral values in the U.S. public school system. Despite the fact that homeschooling was illegal in Georgia and the truant officers and social service workers even threatened to take their children away, Sheryl held on to her vision. She had always been idealistic, and once she became a mother she channeled her passion into educating her children.
Chapter 8: Samuel and our horse, BuckshotChapter 8: Samuel and our horse, Buckshot

“My lessons included a lot more than the standard curriculum of reading, writing, and arithmetic… I also made sure to incorporate many life lessons into our classroom discussions. In this way I was able to instill in my children the attitudes and values that their father and I had cultivated over the years. I also read to them from the Old Testament… My personal favorite was dubbed ‘successful men,’ which I developed into a tool to get my sons to think beyond society’s desire for instant gratification. I wanted them to have a chance at a brighter future, to grow to become men of vision who would build a life for themselves beyond the squalor that mired our society of hillbillies.“

Except for a few brief years when they lived near an Indian reservation in Oklahoma, or near her widowed mother in Joplin, Missouri, Sheryl spent most of next 23 years living in the Appalachian Mountains. Materially the family encountered nothing but unremitting poverty, and Sheryl struggled mightily to keep her family warm and fed. But for all their deprivation, the Massey’s were blessed with a beautiful family consisting of ten healthy and well adjusted children.
Breaking away from the Church
Spiritually they had taken their own unique journey. Early on in their marriage John’s in-depth bible study led him to reject Christianity, a realization that left a very devout Sheryl devastated. Although she had been beset by doubts for nearly her entire life, her parents had managed to instill in her the belief that accepting their savior would guarantee eternal salvation. She was too frightened to even contemplate giving up Christianity. It was a risk she wouldn’t dream of taking. For seven years the couple was at odds over their personal views of religion. Sheryl tried everything to bring her husband back to their roots. Finally, after all those years, she was worn down. There was nothing left to try. Broken hearted, she prayed to God to bring her husband back to their roots, and as an afterthought added, “And if he is correct, help me to see the truth.”

The next time she opened a bible she felt as if a light had turned on and her lifelong struggle with her questions on Christianity all came to the fore. Sheryl began to see the validity behind John’s beliefs and decided to go along with her husband.
One of the hardest parts of belonging to this religion was the suffocating feeling that there was nothing else to learn.
“I had fought with myself for decades as I tried to make sense of the contradictions between my religion and my own relationship with the Creator. One of the hardest parts of belonging to this religion was the suffocating feeling that there was nothing else to learn. As a thinking individual, I had formed my own impressions of the world. I looked up to the heavens and saw an endless sky spread out above me. The dark expanse of the evening sky, studded with multitudes of stars, shining pinpricks of light coalescing into giant galaxies, all bore proof of the vastness of the universe and beyond. In contrast to the mind-boggling endlessness of the world, I found the complexity inherent in the DNA of the microscopic cells in even my littlest toe to be just as great proof of an Intelligence so endless and so infinite that I was awed.

“After witnessing firsthand the greatness of the physical world, I had been left wondering how the spiritual world could possibly be so simplistic and narrow. If the physical world is infused with a sense of infinity, why would the spiritual world be so limited, comprising just a few beliefs and practices? Shouldn’t religion be at least as intricate as the physical world?”

John and Sheryl believed in One God Who had created the world and had given mankind the Old Testament. They continued to rest on the Sabbath. They no longer went to church, alienating their community and their family. They were on their own.
They might have stayed on that mountain, observing their own idea of religion until this day, if Sheryl hadn’t come to realize that her growing children needed some sort of community if they were to find fitting mates and establish families of their own.
Searching for God’s People
It was John who first suggested they look into Judaism, since he recognized that Jews also rested on the Sabbath and studied the Old Testament. Their first foray into Judaism brought them to a Conservative Congregation in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Sheryl was impressed by the rabbi, a polished Harvard graduate, and was deeply inspired by the Kiddush ceremony. They attended services there for some time, before becoming disenchanted with some of the congregant’s manner of dress and deciding to move on.

Their next step was a Reform temple in Rome, Georgia but nothing about the temple or the service spoke to the Masseys. Then John met Rabbi Michael Katz, an Orthodox rabbi in Chattanooga. The Massey boys remember their father’s ecstatic declaration upon meeting Rabbi Katz. “For the first time in my life, I met a man who could answer my questions!” In keeping with the Torah’s directive to turn away prospective converts Rabbi Katz suggested that they attend a Unitarian Universalist congregation. However the loose moral standards accepted in that congregation discouraged the Masssey’s from taking an interest in that congregation.

For the next year they put their search on hold and spent their time on the mountain following their own religious beliefs. Then John went back to Rabbi Katz and tried again. This time the rabbi tried to discourage him by telling him that services were conducted in Hebrew, a language he wouldn’t be able to understand. John would not be deterred, and so Rabbi Katz invited him and his oldest sons down to the synagogue. In time the Massey family was invited for Shabbos.
Sheryl and her children were taken by the beauty of the Jewish Shabbos. As Sabbath observers the concept was familiar, but she felt it was empty compared to what the Jews had. She loved the way Rabbi Katz interacted with her children, and was thrilled that Rebbetzin Toby Katz was able to answer some of the questions that troubled her. It was Sheryl who first decided that she would like to convert. After some time John began to look into the Noahide movement2.
Chapter 10: Dovid, right after conversionChapter 10: Dovid, right after conversion
The Massey boys were growing up, and the oldest son, Joey, decided to move ahead in his spiritual quest without waiting for his parent’s decision on the matter. He bought himself a pickup truck and began driving out to Atlanta on a daily basis to learn Torah. Joey accepted the Torah as the ultimate truth and realized that all that was required of him was the observance of the Seven Noahide Laws. Joey loved hunting, the woods, the mountain folk, and the entire culture he was raised in. The city felt cold and foreign in comparison. He struggled with the choice that confronted him; to convert and become a Jew or remain a faithful Son of Noah? His greatest fear was that his family would not follow him to Judaism, yet Joey decided to become a Jew. He felt that through Judaism and observing its 613 mitzvot he would forge a close relationship to God. Joey moved to Atlanta and converted, his brother Nate came soon after, as did the rest of the family.
Their four oldest sons converted to Judaism and flew off to Jerusalem to learn in a yeshivah.
In the space of just a few years Sheryl and John’s four oldest sons converted to Judaism and flew off to Jerusalem to learn in a yeshivah. The fifth one followed on their heels. At that same time the Masseys faith was tested once again. After giving birth to ten healthy children, Sheryl bore her 11th child, a little girl whose medical condition was incompatible with life, and who died at the age of one month.
The family was devastated, and Sheryl was overcome with grief. In the wake of this crisis the Massey’s marriage fell apart and John and Sheryl divorced.
Finding peace in the Land of Israel
Two years later Sheryl converted along with her younger children and took the name Tzirel Rus. She moved the rest of her family to Israel were the family was finally reunited. (Their father would follow them and convert a few years later.) It was there that she finally found peace after years of searching and suffering.

“I stood at the world’s holiest site, the Western Wall, the remnant of the glorious Temple that once graced the earth. …I had been praying all my life, turning my heart to the Creator of the heavens and stars and begging Him to help me on my life’s journey. I promised to serve Him, but didn’t know how. Empty and alone, I was ignorant of the truth, clawing at the earth as I slowly, laboriously climbed the rugged terrain of the expedition that had been my life.

“…Now my soul raced to find my place among all the women who seemed to roil with prayer and connection to God. I restrained myself and walked towards the plaza, filled with an intense thanksgiving that I was at last able to connect with my God amidst a crowd of other yearning souls.”
It was in Israel that Tzirel Rus’s dream at last came true, as she sat at her Shabbos table surrounded by her ten Jewish children, serenaded by the melodious singing of her children and their friends. She rented an apartment in a small developing town in the Judean Hills. Her innovative and pioneering spirit urged her to roll up her sleeves and get to work in building up the local English speaking community. She arranged Torah classes and brought in speakers, and before long became a well known and much loved member of her community.
An excerpt from a letter written to her Jewish friends back in the U.S. expresses these sentiments.

“I feel that all of my life’s experiences have been to bring me to this moment. God had always put me in situations where I had no one to follow, compelling me to blaze my own path. Here in this growing town, I feel a sense of destiny. With God’s help I will get to pioneer and blaze new trails, only this time I am building on holy soil amidst a holy nation. This time everything will be forever.”

After seven years of single motherhood, Tzirel Rus married the man of her dreams. A Hassidic Jew, Avrum had grown up in New York, and like her had known the pain of a failed marriage, as well as a lifelong incapacitating illness.
Grandma Grimm was born March 25, 1828, was married at 15 and had 238 descendants at her death at the age of 92. She faithfully lit her candles on Friday night.Grandma Grimm was born March 25, 1828, was married at 15 and had 238 descendants at her death at the age of 92. She faithfully lit her candles on Friday night.
“Our backgrounds couldn’t have been more different. Avrum had grown up in Crown Heights, and had gone to cheder with the Boyaner Rebbe. And me? Southern California and the Appalachian Mountains are a long way from Crown Heights…

“With all that, Avrum and I found much in common. There is something about painful life experiences – no matter what their source – that draws together fellow survivors. Our past histories, in which we had both engaged in backbreaking labor, removing metaphorical stones and battling the parched and hardened earth, had resulted in dark, loamy soil from which our shared future would sprout. The vagaries of our lives forced both of us to rise above our physical limitations and develop a more spiritual perspective on life. This strength became the cornerstone of our relationship, the basis for the deep understanding that developed between us. We became true partners in every way. More, we were each other’s biggest fans.”
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With her marriage to Avrum, Tzirel Rus finally moved beyond her difficult childhood and merited to build a warm and peaceful home where her children and grandchildren feel so loved and welcome.
Tzirel Rus’s unusual journey and charismatic personality have made her a magnet for many searching Jews. Her message to them? “I have looked into the four corners of the world, searching for the recipe of life, and after all my efforts I can honestly tell you that I found it by the Jews.”
You can read the story of the father, mother, and their ten children who all converted to Judaism in the newly-published book, The Mountain Family, by Tzirel Rus Berger and Penina Neiman (Mesorah Publications). Click here to order.
1. All quotes taken from Sheryl’s memoir, “The Mountain Family” Mesorah Publications.
2. After the great flood God commanded Noah and his sons to observe seven commandments. These include the prohibitions of idolatry, theft, immorality, murder, blasphemy, and the taking of a limb from a live animal. The seventh commandment is to set up courts of judgment.
According to the Torah these are the commandments that a non-Jew is required to observe in order to live a righteous life.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Sun 08 Dec 2013, 7:49 pm

Home   »  Israel   »  Jewish World
Mandela’s Complex Jewish TiesMandela’s Complex Jewish Ties
South African leader's long relationship with community veered between supportive and hostile.
by Geoff Sifrin        
Nelson Mandela’s amazing attitude of reconciliation after his release in 1990 from 27 years in prison reassured very nervous South African Jews – and whites generally – that after living with “packed suitcases under the bed” during apartheid, they had a future here after all.

Most people had always realized that apartheid simply couldn’t go on forever, no matter how brutal the apartheid regime was, and that the whole thing might end in a racial bloodbath. Under Mandela, who died Thursday, Dec. 5, in Johannesburg at 95 after a long illness, there would be no bloodbath. He invited all South Africans to help build a “rainbow nation.”

During the seven decades after the young Mandela, came in 1941 to Johannesburg from the Eastern Cape seeking work, his numerous interactions with Jews ranged between supportive and downright hostile. One of his early encounters was when Jewish attorney Lazar Sidelsky gave him his first job in his law firm. Later, many of the white comrades who fought apartheid with him were Jews with whom he formed close bonds. Of the 17 activists arrested at Liliesleaf, Rivonia, in July 1963, five were whites and all of them were Jews.

Yet, as with other white groups, only a tiny percentage of South African Jews fought apartheid, and Mandela had little contact with them during the years of struggle. The Jewish mainstream was largely apathetic and went along with it, while not actively supporting it – Jews almost always voted for the liberal opposition parties in elections. Mandela’s name, however, was scarcely mentioned in Jewish circles during his imprisonment – the image painted by the regime of him as a brutal “terrorist” best kept locked away always hovered over the conversations.

There is also discomfort among South African Jews at the fact that Percy Yutar, a respected member of an Orthodox shul in Johannesburg, was a government prosecutor in the Rivonia Trial in 1964 at which Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. True to his generous spirit, however, Mandela invited Yutar to lunch just months after being inaugurated as the South African president, and made a point of publicly shaking his hand, thus sending a message that the bitter past must not be allowed to prevent a better future.
Released from prison, Mandela engaged vigorously with mainstream Jewish organizations and leading Jewish philanthropists and businessmen.
During the anti-apartheid struggle, his interaction with Jews was primarily with individual lawyers, journalists and activists. Then, after President F.W. de Klerk announced on Feb. 2, 1990 that the ban on the African National Congress was being lifted and Mandela would be released from prison, a new period began and Mandela engaged vigorously with mainstream Jewish organizations and leading Jewish philanthropists and businessmen.

Among those organizations was the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (Jewry’s umbrella representative body) at whose National Conference in 1993 he was the keynote speaker; yet hanging in the background was always the discomforting recollection that during apartheid the SAJBD had adhered to a formal “non-political” policy, saying its job was to look after Jewish interests, not be involved in South African politics. Such a posture amid apartheid’s brutality, with Jews living lives of huge privilege because of the system, had weighty moral implications.

Apartheid posed difficult questions for South African Jewry: What was Judaism’s duty to the oppressed among whom they lived? What had Jews learned from their own history of persecution? And did they have the courage to stand up against apartheid when, in this virtual police state, it would invite retribution from the regime?

Today, the Jewish mainstream points with pride to the Jewish activists who fought bravely with Mandela, many of whom were banned, jailed or forced into exile. This has provoked the retort that Jews who did nothing are basking in their reflected glory. 

Mandela’s enthusiastic embrace of the broader contacts with the Jewish community post-apartheid included community development organization MaAfrika Tikkun, of which he became patron-in-chief. Ma’Afrika Tikkun, founded by Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris and businessmen Herby Rosenberg and Bertie Lubner, was a proud example of the Jewish community’s work among the underprivileged.

Right at the outset in the 1940s, Sidelsky, Mandela’s employer, insisted he complete his law studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, where Jewish students became his friends. Some later defended him in the two high-profile trials in which he was an accused – the 1956 Treason Trial and the 1964 Rivonia Trial.

The defense team in the Treason Trial in which 156 people, including Mandela,stood accused, was headed by advocate Isie Maisels, a respected member of the Johannesburg Bar. Another Jewish advocate, Sydney Kentridge, dealt particularly with Mandela as his counsel. Kentridge later recalled: “I could somehow tell from the many talks I had with him that this man was a leader. Of course I couldn’t have guessed he would become the leader he, in fact, became.” By the time the trial ended in 1961, all defendants had been found not guilty.

Central to Mandela’s contacts with Jews in the new South Africa was Glasgow-born Chief Rabbi Harris, who came to the country in 1988 when the apartheid grip on the society was already loosening. The two became close friends – Mandela referred to Harris as “my rabbi.” Their friendship threw into relief the question: Why had so few rabbis – the conveyors of Jewish values – played a role in resisting apartheid?
“We are sorry you are having trouble with your eyes, but we want you to know that there is nothing wrong with your vision.”
Mandela had eye problems from working in lime quarries during his imprisonment, which his Jewish doctor, Percy Amoils, corrected. Rabbi Harris commented at the time: “We are sorry you are having trouble with your eyes, but we want you to know that there is nothing wrong with your vision.”

When Rabbi Harris appeared at the Faith Communities hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997 on behalf of the SAJBD, he apologized for the Jewish community’s “inactivity and silence” during apartheid. Other white groups had done no better, but Rabbi Harris’ words caused some soul-searching among South African Jews.
In 1985 a movement called “Jews for Social Justice” was started for social action against apartheid, supported by Rabbis Norman Bernhard and Ady Assabi. Again, as the reconciler, a few months after his release from prison, Mandela attended a Shabbat service at Temple Shalom in Johannesburg at Rabbi Assabi’s invitation. Just prior to that, Mandela had appeared on television warmly embracing PLO Chairman Yasir Arafat at Namibia’s Independence Day celebrations, provoking some enraged members of Assabi’s congregation to hurl insults at him for inviting Mandela.

Another of Mandela’s enduring friendships was with feisty Helen Suzman, the acclaimed Jewish politician who fought the apartheid system endlessly within the Chambers of Parliament. In the days when she was the sole member of the Liberal-Progressive Party in Parliament, she was the first member of Parliament to visit the prisoner Mandela on Robben Island and take an interest in the plight of the political convicts. He called her the voice of the true opposition. After apartheid he remained loyal to their friendship even after she had been almost totally marginalized by the country’s new political leadership. Suzman commented: “I have been airbrushed out of history by the new regime – but Mandela still visits me.”

With South African Jews so passionately Zionist, the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would inevitably come up between them and Mandela. He accepted Israel’s right to exist within the 1967 borders and also promoted a Palestinian state. Instinctively, though, he remained closer to Palestinians than Israelis, particularly given the close links during apartheid between the ANC and the PLO. He saw the Palestinians as similar to South African blacks in their plight.
His proposals were regarded as “simplistic” by both Israelis and Palestinians.
However, he again showed his greatness when in 1995 he attended a ceremony at the Oxford Synagogue in Johannesburg in honor of murdered Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. In October 1999, he visited Israel, accompanied by Jewish community leaders. The trip was intended to repair the political damage caused by Israeli links with apartheid South Africa. Israel, although not involved in apartheid violence, had cooperated in military matters with the government.
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Mandela proposed a plan for Middle East peace, saying the Arabs must recognize the State of Israel within the 1967 borders and Israel must give up territory for peace. His proposals were regarded as “simplistic” by both Israelis and Palestinians. In Gaza, he met with Arafat and, while in Israel, he visited Rabin’s grave and went to Yad Vashem.

Now Mandela is gone. What is his legacy for the country, the world – and for Jews? Certainly in South Africa there is no one in the current leadership who even remotely approaches Mandela’s visionary stature. And in the Middle East? If only a Mandela could emerge from either the Israeli or the Palestinian side to do there what Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela did for South Africa. 
This article originally appeared in the Jewish Week.
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Post  Admin on Wed 04 Dec 2013, 11:59 am

Faith in God: A Jewish Perspective
It starts with the intellect and slowly enters the heart.
by Orit Esther Riter, Author of the Daily Dose of Emuna


Loosely translated as faith in God, emuna is considered the cornerstone of Jewish belief and practice. What does the term emuna mean? How does this affect my life? When are we as Jews required to have or practice this emuna?


Unfortunately, many people assume that emuna refers to blind faith. However, this is not the case. In the Aleinu prayer recited at or near the end of every prayer service, we proclaim: “And you shall know today, and take to heart, that God is the only God…” We are instructed to ‘know’ that God exists. Blind leaps of faith have nothing to do with knowledge; they are expressions of what one wishes to be true, not what is in fact necessarily true.


Emuna begins in the mind as intellectual Emuna, formed after hard rational work and inquiry. Ultimate contemplation of the world and how it could not be created other than by an infinite Being will help us achieve this intellectual faith.


Knowing in our minds that our Creator is there is the first step. However, in time and with repeated practice, emuna can melt into the heart. After we readily acknowledge that God is part of our life and never leaves, we can work on developing loyalty to God with that knowledge and slowly begin to feel it internally. Rather than pure intellectual belief, emuna should be defined as theact of being faithful or loyal. It is the basic requirement of any healthy relationship and demands constant reinforcement.


With time and dedication we can strive toward living a life permeated by emuna. Emuna is developed throughout a lifetime and needs to be repeatedly contemplated. Loyalty to God becomes essential when life throws us a sharp curve ball which may cause us to lose balance and doubt that things truly are for the best.


Yet at these painful times, it is also more difficult to exercise our emuna muscles. It becomes most challenging when reality presents hardships that conflict with our ability to intellectually understand. The loss of harmony between that which we know in our minds to be true – God is taking care of us as part of His nation – yet do not enjoy or cannot see the logic in, is what provides us with our free will.


Through the means of free will, we choose whether to remain loyal to the word of God in spite of the pain, or to shun the word of God because of its seeming illogicality. Emuna is understanding that we cannot understand the totality of God’s knowledge, but recognizing and accepting that everything serves a purpose despite this.


Once we know logically that God is always with us, and we have started practicing this loyalty regularly, we can now engage in everyday life with trust in Him. This feeling of trust gives us a gift of security knowing that we are in perfect hands as we are being individually directed and handled by God Himself. Therefore, we can enjoy the feeling that we are being led through life by means of a personal guide, and that there is meaning and purpose to every event that occurs.


Emuna comes with practice of the mind and action. Utilizing life’s encounters as a prospect to seeing God in my life increases our awareness of His constant presence. We can use challenges as catalysts to come closer to our Creatorsince we extract meaning and grow from the experience.


For example, when traveling by bus to Jerusalem we can sit back, relax and enjoy the view. We can be free from worry, knowing that the driver is professional and knows how and where to drive. If we did not trust the driver’s skill, or we thought we could drive a bus better than him,, we may sit on edge the entire ride, questioning his navigation skills and driving abilities. In contrast, with emuna we can calmly sit on the bus, enjoy the scenery and await our final destination.
Sitting in bumper to bumper car traffic is boot camp for strengthening our emuna muscles. Some thoughts to ponder might include:
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I must be delayed for a good reason;
maybe it is slippery ahead and needed to slow down or possibly;
I need time to recollect my thoughts before continuing to drive.
The bottom line – there is purpose to my slowing down and it is all good for me even if I cannot readily see it.
Having someone cut the line while waiting for a cashier is another opportunity to exercise my emuna muscles. Perhaps this is a chance to refine my personality by allowing the other person to go in front without feeling bitter?
Emuna is looking beyond the limited now and knowing that we may not fully grasp the meaning of what is happening. We think we know what is best for us, but emuna means have faith that only God really knows. Nonetheless, we also have faith that one day we too will know.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Mon 02 Dec 2013, 5:54 pm

Hanukkah: Strength in Unity
How to battle against spiritual annihilation.
by Gary Fagen        
The story of Hanukkah took place during the time of the Second Temple when the Greek regime of Antiochus sought to pull Jews away from their religion and heritage. Matityahu led the Jewish army in trying to drive out the enemy, after three years the Maccabees were, against all odds, able to succeed in driving out the foreigners from their land. When the Jews re-entered the Holy Temple they found it in shambles and idols were scattered everywhere. When it came time to re-light and re-dedicate the holy Menorah, they searched the entire Temple, but found only one jar of pure oil bearing the seal of the High Priest. An amazing miracle happened as that small jar of oil burned for eight days until a new supply of oil could be brought, hence the name Hanukkah, meaning 'dedication'.

Many people see Hanukkah and Purim having strong connections; however the aims of the enemies in each story were very different. During the Purim episode, Haman wanted to destroy every single Jew physically. However, on Hanukkah Antiochus wanted to assimilate and subsume the Jews into Greek culture. The Greeks had no intention of murdering the Jews physically; it was a spiritual and ideological campaign of annihilation.

This is why on Hanukkah we celebrate spiritually, via praying and lighting a soulful candle, while on Purim the mode of celebration is bodily focused.
The Three Decrees
Let us take a closer look at what the Greeks were aiming to do...
The Greek culture was one that extolled physical beauty and physical might. A self-aggrandized diet of sport (with little clothing) and war became the essence of Greek culture, which they sought to spread to the entire world. As the Maharal of Prague explains the three sons of Noah represent the foundations of all mankind. Yefes: the third son of Noah, means physical and aesthetic beauty and this was eagerly stressed by the Greeks. Yavan the descendants of Yefes took this concept and used it as the only reality if existence. The three letters of Yavan – yud, vav and nun – look like singular thin lines that have no framework or depth to contain anything, representing a totally external approach to look at the world; physical pleasure disconnected from anything deeper.

The Jewish religion is centered around the concept of spirituality; and that physical beauty can be expressed and reflected by adjoining spiritual beauty. Lasting beauty is one which is connected to truth, depth, wisdom and profundity; the physical features are merely the tip of the iceberg. For example Shabbat is a day focused on the spiritual world; as the Sages say it is like the World to Come. Yet on Shabbat we beautify ourselves, our tables and our family and communal lives as well. The Greeks outlawed the observance of the spiritual day of Shabbat because it represented the inner soul of the physical world.

Rosh Chodesh, sanctifying the New Moon each month, was also outlawed because it represented the inner holiness of the faculty of time. Brit Millah was banned because it represented the inner holiness of the body. It is no irony that Hanukkah contains within it a Shabbat, a Rosh Chodesh and contains the same transcendental number of days as a Brit Milah.

Every Hebrew word has a deep meaning. On the hand there are a total of 14 joints which is the gematria (numerical value) of the Hebrew word “Yad” which means “hand.” When two hands come together there is a unity, and the combination of putting “hand in hand” (yad yad) forms the Hebrew word “yedid,” which means close friends. When two hands come together there is a total of 28 joints. The number 28 written in Hebrew is kaf chet, spelling the Hebrew word “koach” which means “strength.”

The commentaries state that a reason for the destruction of the temple was due to Jews fighting against each other. The rededication of the temple on Hanukkah saw the Jews repair their spiritual breeches and reunite around the temple. When the Jewish people unite they are the strongest, like two hands coming together.
This, too, is a form of beauty; the full spectrum of the grand tapestry of the Jewish people standing together and expressing their inner quality and transcendental eternal natures.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Wed 27 Nov 2013, 4:14 pm

Thanksgivukkah & American Jews Colossal Blunder
Has Hanukkah in America become a testament to assimilation?
by Salvador Litvak        
Ever since I became a dad I've had mixed feelings about Hanukkah. The holiday itself is inarguably beautiful. We kindle a flame to commemorate a miracle, we gaze at its light, and we are forbidden to use that light for any other purpose. We thus celebrate God's light itself – the first thing God created in our world and, as Einstein taught us, the raw material from which everything else is fashioned. In kindling the Hanukkah light, we commune with the Divine.


The problem is that American Hanukkah has become anything but divine. Conscious of the great fun our friends are having with Christmas, American Jews fill the gap with eight nights of presents, glittering decorations, and in some homes, Christmas trees beside the hanukkiyah as a vehicle for even more presents.


In our house, we'd like to cut out the presents entirely, but we don't want our kids to associate being Jewish with getting ripped off, so we compromise with books. Still, wrapped boxes flow in from well-meaning loved ones, and the increasing commerciality of the season makes it harder every year to maintain the true spirit of Hanukkah.


This year, we Jews have a unique opportunity to restore a proper sense of gratitude to our Festival of Lights. Hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving, a "coincidence" that won't recur in our lifetimes. I believe God speaks to us in the language of events, and coincidences are exclamations. If that's true, then Thanksgivukkah, which won't return for another 79,811 years, must be an important message.


I looked into the origin texts of the two holidays, and discovered that Thanksgivukkah can save from us from not one but two colossal blunders.


Worse than commerciality, our American Hanukkah has become a testament to assimilation, and that's a blunder because the holiday is specifically about not assimilating. Unlike most of our enemies throughout history, the Syrian Greeks who ruled the Middle East in 165 B.C.E. did not desire to kill or enslave the Jewish people. Jews were free to live among them so long as we gave up being Jewish. They banned circumcision, Torah study, and prayer services under pain of death, and then desecrated our Holy Temple by slaughtering a pig upon the altar in honor of their gods.


Tragically, many Jews gave in to the pressure and chose to lead a Hellenized life of scintillating symposia and idolatry. A few held fast to our then thousand-year-old religion and its precious link to our Creator. War ensued, and against all odds, a small band of warriors led by Yehudah Maccabee freed the Holy Temple from the Greeks. Though the war would rage on for many more years, the Maccabees rededicated the Temple immediately, and a small cruse of oil that should have lit the menorah for only one day burned for eight.
From the very beginning, Hanukkah has been linked to Thanksgiving.
One might have thought that the Sages would institute a holiday like Purim to celebrate the miraculous military victory – a holiday which incidentally includes gift-giving. Instead, the Talmud notes:


A miracle was performed with the oil when they kindled the lights of the menorah. In the following year, the Sages established these eight days of Hanukkah as permanent holidays with the recital of Hallel and Thanksgiving. (Shabbos 21b, B. Talmud)


Imagine that. From the very beginning, Hanukkah has been linked to Thanksgiving, in this case, the thanksgiving blessings we add to the Grace After Meals, thus forever linking Thanksgiving with a festive meal.
It is often said that the Talmud addresses every aspect of our lives, but who would have thought it would presage Thanksgivukkah – a once-in-a-lifetime "coincidence" 2,000 years in the future! As always, there are no coincidences. Now let's take a look at our modern Thanksgiving.


The holiday dates back to the first meal shared by Pilgrims and Native-Americans. Did they assimilate in order to eat together? Of course not. They brought their traditions with them, maintained their identities, and broke bread together in a meal that acknowledged the blessings they collectively received from their Creator. Sadly, such scenes have been too rare in American history.


The calendar oddity of Thanksgivukkah is not actually based on that first meal near Plymouth Rock, but rather on the federal holiday created by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. So it is especially appropriate on this, the 150th official Thanksgiving, to take a close look at President Lincoln's authorizing proclamation, also made in the midst of a grueling war:


The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God ... who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.


President Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a non-sectarian but clearly religious holiday: a time to thank the Creator for miraculous blessings, which include the opportunity to break bread with our loved ones, just as we do in the Grace After Meals.
If we hold on to this Thanksgivukkah teaching, we can forever avoid the blunder of reducing Hanukkah to a commercialized imitation of Christmas.
The Entire People
The second blunder to be avoided is perhaps even more important, and it is a blunder I made even as I wrote this post.
Lincoln issued his proclamation to the "whole American People," whom he asked to thank God with one heart and one voice. He thus spoke not only to the citizens of the North, but also to the ten million rebels of the South. Lincoln refused to judge them, and considered them his brothers and sisters, even though they waged war against him.


How much more then must we Jews refuse to judge our brothers and sisters, especially when we comprise such a small tribe in America, let alone the world. Rabbi Shalom Arush says that the ugliest form of arrogance is when one Jew feels he's better than another. The fact is, it's good that Jews celebrate Hanukkah no matter why they do it. In fact, the Talmud teaches:


The commandment of Hanukkah is one light for each person and his entire household. And those who are meticulous about pursuing mitzvot (commandments) have one light for each person in the household. And those who are most fervently meticulous about pursuing mitzvot... kindle one light on the first night and thenceforward increase the number of lights each night. (Shabbos 21b, B. Talmud)
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Hanukkah is thus the one holiday on which all Jews are meticulous! We come together as one people to increase the amount of God's light in the world, and that is precisely our mission. If filling a Christmas void spurs more of us to do that work, fantastic! God loves light, and the more of it the better. Above all, we need unity with one another if we are to fulfill our destiny as a "light unto the nations."
My friends, I wish you a festive, warm, loving, blazingly bright, and happy Thanksgivukkah!
This article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Fri 15 Nov 2013, 11:35 am

No More Mask
As we get older, with fewer defenses and inhibitions to provide any filters, our real selves poke through.
by Emuna Braverman        
I heard something really frightening today. I hadn’t really given it much thought before. But now I’m really scared. Terrified, in fact.
I participated in a class where the teacher mentioned that she frequently visited old age homes when she was a child. Some of the residents were gracious and welcoming, always smiling and friendly and happy to see her. Others were crotchety, nasty and rude. (We’re not at the scary part yet…)
Without giving it much thought, I just assumed that the more unpleasant older folk were probably lonely and in pain and their behavior reflected this. And I’m sure for some that is true.
But in speaking with staff and relatives, the reality turned out to be much simpler. And much more horrifying. Their personalities reflected exactly who they had been their whole lives – with fewer defenses and inhibitions to provide any filters or masks.
If they had led lives of kindness and caring, that’s who they were. And, unfortunately, if they had led lives of bitterness and selfishness, that’s who they were as well. Their essence was on display. They simply lacked the resources and energy to cover it up.
When we’re younger we can still pretend. We can show one face to the world and another to our families, a smiling, subservient one to our boss and a haughty, arrogant one to our employees. We can cover up all the negative emotions that we are actually feeling.
But if it’s only a cover-up and not an actual change, our real selves will ultimately poke through. We won’t be able to fool everyone forever.
It’s frightening. If we don’t really change who we are – in a deeper, serious, internal way and not just a superficial one – then that person will, at some point, be all we have left.
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Luckily we still have time. But we need to act. We need to uproot our negative character traits; we need to change our bad habits. And that’s all easier said than done. So we need to really get to work.
We can always grow. Well, almost always. I think some of those senior citizens alluded to earlier may find it too difficult to uproot the habits of a life time. We don’t want to take our chances. As it says in one of our favorite Dr. Seuss books, “The time has come. The time is now.”
I need to act immediately. And I pray that my old age will reflect my good intentions where my actions and character may fall short.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Tue 12 Nov 2013, 1:41 pm

Poland, Women & the Holocaust
Three groundbreaking works reveal disturbing facts about the perpetrators of genocide.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech         
The horrors of the Holocaust demand of us more than mere remembrance or commemoration.
It is commendable that we have erected monuments for the six million and that we light candles in the memory of those who were so cruelly murdered. But lit candles do not enlighten us nor do they assist us to understand the events of the past in a manner that will help us to prevent a reoccurrence.

More than memorials, what will in the long run prove far more significant is the kind of work based on serious research that permits us insight into the truths – often hidden or buried from public view – that made the Holocaust possible. To reveal them is to pay the victims the greatest tribute of all by making their fate an impossibility for the future.

And that, I believe, is what makes three groundbreaking works of the past few weeks so very important.
The first is a new book, Hunt for the Jews: Betrayal and Murder in German-Occupied
Poland, published this October. Written by Polish historian Jan Grabowski, the son of a Holocaust survivor, a graduate of Warsaw University and currently a history professor at University of Ottawa, it records the massacres of Jews by their neighbors in his native Poland, until now a little-told chapter of Holocaust history.
Grabowski has suffered death threats but insists he will not give up his struggle to expose the truth.
Boycotted in the Canadian Polish community where he lives today, and no longer welcome in his homeland, Grabowski has suffered death threats but insists he will not give up his struggle to expose the truth.
“The purpose of my research was to discover the condition of the Jews who managed to avoid being sent to death camps and chose to live in hiding. My research brought me to the level of individual cases of people who chose to hide. I tried to understand how only very few of those Jews who decided to hide were able to stay alive until 1945,” says Grabowski.

Grabowski interviewed Holocaust survivors and local residents, primarily inPoland, Israel and Germany. In addition, he studied previously unpublished results of dozens of trials of Polish residents tried by the Communist regime for taking part in the killing of their Jewish neighbors.
To his dismay, Grabowski has found many Poles are still not ready to face the past and the fact that many of their ancestors took an active part in the extermination of the Jews.
Neighbors of Jedwabne
The same theme is the message of the movie Pokłosie (Aftermath), which hit the screens in Poland last November and will open this week in the US. Based on Princeton professor Jan Gross’s explosive 2001 work Neighbors, it examines the massacre of Jews from Jedwabne village in Nazi-occupiedPoland and reveals that it was the Poles, not the Nazis, who were to blame.


“One day, in July 1941, half of the population of a small east European town murdered the other half – some 1,600 men, women and children."
“One day, in July 1941, half of the population of a small east European town murdered the other half – some 1,600 men, women and children." This is how historian Jan Gross summarized the massacre that occurred in Jedwabne, in northeastern Poland. Gross described the atrocities in almost unbearable detail: Men and women were hacked to death with knives, iron hooks, and axes. Small children were thrown with pitchforks onto a bonfire. A woman's decapitated head was kicked like a football. Local townsmen-turned-hooligans grabbed clubs studded with nails and other weapons and chased the Jews into the street. Many tried to escape through the surrounding fields, but only seven succeeded. The thugs fatally shot many Jews after forcing them to dig mass graves. They shoved the remaining hundreds of Jews into a barn, doused it with kerosene and set it ablaze. Some on the outside played musical instruments to drown out the victims' cries.

Till now historians blamed the massacre on the Nazis. Gross argues that “a virulent Polish anti-Semitism was liberated by German occupation.” Neighbors sets the record straight as to the identity of the criminals. As Publishers Weekly puts it, “In doing so, Gross has ensured that future histories of the Holocaust, particularly in Poland, will be more honest, because future historians will be answerable to his argument that the evil of the Nazis was not only forced on the Poles. In places such as Jedwabne, it was welcomed by them.”
The new film, Aftermath, brings that message forcefully to the screen. And like Grabowski, the film’s star Maciej Stuhr has already received death threats, and in several online forums there were comments such as “You are not a Pole anymore, you have become a Jew.”
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Women & Genocide
Finally, there is one more addition to most recent Holocaust literature that deserves to be mentioned for its groundbreaking information. Published in October of this year as well, Hitler’s Furies is the exquisitely researched new work by Wendy Lower, already a finalist for the National Book Award.
Lower forces us to knowledge that historians have till now ignored the role of German women in the story of Nazi genocide and Hitler’s plan for the “final solution.” Her book is a deeply disturbing chronicle of women’s participation in the Holocaust, not only as “desk murderers” — secretaries and administrators whose weapon was not a Luger or a gas chamber but a typewriter — but also, as Lower reveals in chilling detail, capable of the same savagery as their male counterparts. This she takes pains to emphasize is a fact often overlooked by Holocaust scholars and historians, a shocking truth whose evidence has been hidden for more than 70 years. “Genocide,” as Lower puts it, “can be women’s business as well.”
It is now more than half a century after the Holocaust. Living witnesses will soon no longer be available to us. All we will be left with is their records, their testimonies, and their stories. Our mission is to make sense of them in a way that will help insure that the insanity of that time never again stain the history of civilization. Research that uncovers the truth needs to be valued as noble and necessary efforts towards that goal.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Tue 12 Nov 2013, 12:47 pm

Curing Jewish Ignorance
Too many Jews are turning their back on something they don’t even know. I was one of them.
“Whoever does not visit the sick is as if he spilled blood.” – Rabbi Akiva (Nedarim 40a, B. Talmud)


Our fellow Jews are sick. They don’t admit it. They don’t even know it. Yet the malady is grave. “The most destructive, painful, most contagious disease of all,” Rabbi Noah Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah, said, “is ignorance. Ignorance perverts people and leads to wasted, counterproductive lives. Ignorance causes untold suffering – mistreatment of children, marital strife and suffering in a dead-end job.”
Who are these ignorant Jews? The highly educated, socially conscious, comedy-loving, Holocaust-honoring 1.2 million American Jews who identify themselves as Jews of no religion, according to the Pew survey. This group has been steadily growing for four decades and now includes one-third of all adult Jews born after 1980. Four-fifths of this group marry non-Jews. Only 8 percent raise their kids to be Jewish. The majority of them feel little or no attachment to Israel.


I call them ignorant because they’ve turned their back on something they don’t even know. Many have never been exposed to Judaism at all; others have experienced a diluted, dumbed-down version, and understandably found it uninspiring. I don’t blame them for consequently writing off the whole religion, but it’s like writing off sushi after trying a rubbery tuna roll from 7-Eleven.
I know about this because I was one of them. For years, I was proud to be Jewish, but I thought Judaism had nothing to offer me. I had received two messages from my parents:
1) Be Jewish to preserve the Jewish people.
2) Be Jewish because your grandfather died in the Holocaust. My mother is a child survivor of Theresienstadt, with lifelong health problems occasioned by her treatment there. Her father was murdered at Dachau, and most of her extended family was killed at Auschwitz. My father is a Chilean Jew who had to fight his way out of several scrapes with anti-Semites. We never owned a German car. We rejoiced when Israeli commandos rescued the hostages at Entebbe on July 4, 1976.


I sought spirituality everywhere but my own backyard.


And yet, Judaism was understood to be a chore. Temple was boring but obligatory a few times a year. My bar mitzvah was more of a performance than a meaningful experience. As I grew older, I sought spirituality in Eastern philosophy, meditation, endurance sports, jam bands, transcendental poetry and science fiction — everywhere but my own backyard.


Eventually I found my way back, thanks to a confluence of events. My grandmother died. I stumbled into the right shul. I got a taste of deep Judaism, and a constellation of secular myths exploded around me. I found that our ancient tradition spoke to me in innumerable ways, even while I remained scientifically oriented and modern. More to the point, I became a better husband, father, son, brother, friend and citizen when I became a practicing Jew.
As I learned from Arthur Kurzweil, there is a rope that connects every Jew to God. Sometimes these ropes break. When a broken rope gets retied, however, the distance between the Jew and God becomes shorter. Interestingly, I often feel I have more in common with practitioners of other faiths than I do with devoutly secular Jews who cringe at “God talk.” Among the former, there exist an amazing 1.2 million American non-Jews who identify themselves as people with Jewish affinity. They do so mostly because they share religious values with us, and because Jesus was Jewish. I find this support comforting – evidence of the great freedom we enjoy in America to practice our own religion. Ironically, it may be this very lack of persecution that leads so many of our brothers and sisters to devalue their own religious heritage, and eventually to abandon it altogether.
“Whoever does not visit the sick is as if he spilled blood,” said Rabbi Akiva. He spoke these words after visiting a sick man whom no other Sage would visit. He saw that the man lacked basic necessities, attended to him personally and saved his life. We bear the same obligation toward those who are spiritually sick today.
We who are connected to God through the rope of Judaism have a sacred duty to help the unconnected retie the knot. If they get a taste of quality Judaism, and still leave it behind, OK, they’ve made an informed choice. The vast majority of these folks, however, have no idea what they’re missing.


Our fellow Jews suffer from tragic levels of ignorance. They’ve never experienced a Carlebach service, they’ve never excavated layers of text with a great teacher, and they’ve never seen a relationship improve through mussar work. They simply don’t know that inspiring Judaism exists.
I think it’s fantastic that Jewish institutions are creating fun, welcoming, inspiring events to greet the curious when they show up. The group I’m talking about, however, will not show up. Chocolate fountain Shabbats and comedy club Yom Kippurs will not get them through the door.


The connected have to do the connecting, starting with our closest friends.


So we need to knock on their doors. Call it crowd-sourced outreach. The connected have to do the connecting, starting with our closest friends. We have to invite our secular pals to our Shabbat dinners. When they come, we have to make it warm and festive, modeling the benefits we’ve gained from Torah Judaism. I’d like to give special props to my dear friends Rabbi Shlomo “Schwartzie” Schwartz and his wife, Olivia, who have hosted such Shabbats for 60 people at a time for 30 years.
If you’ve got a special ability to connect the unconnected, please use it. My own plan is ambitious, but God blessed me with a little miracle in 2005 when I became the Accidental Talmudist. As a result of that miracle, I have a huge opportunity to visit the sick, and I am seizing it. I post morsels of Jewish wisdom on Facebook.com/AccidentalTalmudist every day, and the page now has more than 10,000 fans. I share a mission with dedicated organizations like Chabad and Aish, who are putting vast libraries of Judaism online. The problem with the Internet, however, is that people only consume what they’re looking for, sparing little time for material that doesn’t draw them. Even the things they do like can only hold their attention for a few minutes at a time.
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Television, however, is different. People stumble onto shows all the time as they search for something to watch, and if they’re intrigued, they’ll stay for half an hour. That’s a huge opportunity to give Jews and potential Jews a taste of deep Judaism. Currently, there is quite a bit of Jewish culture on TV, but the only Judaism available is Jews for Jesus and Kabbalah Centre. That’s why I’m creating a fast-paced reality show in which I meet the most dynamic, inspiring, humorous teachers of Jewish wisdom, and challenge them to address the thorniest questions in modern life – the kind of show that would’ve caught my attention when I was sick. (If you’d like to join me in this effort, please reach out:salvador@accidentaltalmudist.com.)


The key is to take our Judaism to the Jews who need it most. The reward for this mitzvah is enormous. Every morning we read in our siddur that a person who visits the sick enjoys the fruit of the mitzvah in this world, and the principal remains intact for him in the World to Come (Shabbat 127a, Babylonian Talmud). The reward in the next world is necessarily mysterious. The reward in this world, however, is clear: a healthier community and a stronger tribe.
This article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Thu 07 Nov 2013, 11:08 pm

Way #4: Introduce Yourself to Yourself
Don't go through life making assumptions about who you are. Take time now before a crisis comes along and forces the issue.
by Rabbi Noah Weinberg
Did you ever get on a train going somewhere, only to find that you're headed in the wrong direction?
The same thing happens in life. We set goals and make plans – and sometimes discover that we're on "the wrong train."
Bi-vinat ha-lave literally means "understanding the heart." The heart is the seat of emotions. We say: "My heart is heavy, my heart is lifted, my heart is broken," etc. To understand your heart is to understand your true inner self.
Many people go through life making assumptions about who they are. They never take time to "meet" themselves. Don't be afraid of discovering that the "real you" may be different than the "current you."
Often a crisis hits at midlife when people ask: "What's my life about? Is this all worth it?" We've heard stories of people who suddenly change direction, quitting their job and getting divorced. You know, like the successful doctor who decides he never wanted to go into medicine in the first place – so he drops it and becomes an artist.
Knowing yourself is the essence of being alive. If you don't know yourself, you are not living. If you don't know what makes you tick, you're a robot, a puppet, a zombie.
So don't wait for a crisis. Life is too short to take wrong trains.
Getting Started
Think of someone you'd be fascinated to meet, someone you'd really like to find out what makes him tick.
Now realize the most fascinating person you could ever meet is... yourself.
Sit down, say hello, and introduce yourself to yourself. Become familiar with yourself as if you'd just met a long-lost cousin. Interview yourself. Ask questions about your life and the direction you're going. Search out your dreams – both the ones you're fulfilling and the ones you've pushed to the back of your mind.
Get down to basics. You want to be rich. You want to be famous. You want to be good. You want to accomplish. You want meaning. You want to be creative. But why do you want all this? What's driving you? What you really want out of life?
The process of self-discovery involves asking a series of questions, always probing deeper until the underlying truth emerges. Ask yourself 10 questions that you would ask an intimate friend. Then wait for answers. Don't worry, no one is going to poke fun at you.
What is the purpose of life?
What is my goal in life?
Why did I choose this career?
How do I spend my spare time?
What is my motivation for doing what I do?
What really makes me happy?
Am I as happy as I want to be?
Is it more important to be rich or to be happy?
What are my future plans? Why?
What are my secret dreams and ambitions?
Don't be surprised if the answers aren't immediate. This process can take many months. Stick with it and find out what makes you tick. The answers are hiding in there. After all, you have a fascinating partner.
Finally, the most important question to ask is:
"What am I living for?"
It sounds like a simple question, but many are embarrassed to ask it. A voice inside us says, "Nah, why ask such a basic question?" We're resistant because we know this requires a lot of difficult soul-searching. And when you thoroughly know yourself, then you have changed. You've changed your relationship with yourself and the world.
Confidence in Decision-Making
People often avoid making decisions out of fear of making a mistake.
Actually, the failure to make decisions is one of life's biggest mistakes.
Imagine the beggar who receives a letter saying that he's inherited a million dollars. If he doesn't read the letter, is he rich ... or not?
Similarly, God gave us the free will to make choices in life and achieve greatness. But if we're not aware of our free will, then we don't really have it. And then we wind up blaming others when things go wrong – even though we know the decision is really up to us.
If you're not using your potential, it wears away at your confidence. Do you know what your potential is? Have you tried to use it? You have to tackle life. You haven't given up yet, have you? Let's get on with the game, with the business of really living, of not just "going through the motions."
Know the difference between "making decisions" and just floating, falling into place. Did you choose to go to college? Or perhaps you had nothing to do with the decision. Was it something you just did because you graduated high school and everybody else was doing it? Did you think it through and actually make a decision?
Imagine this private conversation of a college student:
Why am I going to college?
To get a degree.
Why?
Because I want to get into a good graduate school.
Why?
So I'll get a good job.
Why?
So I can pay back my college loans!
Through the process of questioning, he reveals a logical fault in his motivation. Really, the primary reason for going to college should be to acquire wisdom, knowledge and information. In other words, to get an education!
Now try the process yourself, using this example:
Why do I want to get married?
Don't accept pat answers. Keep asking "Why, why why?" Be frank. It's yourself. Ask any question you like. Be patient and persistent. Eventually you'll get an answer.
When you thoroughly analyze an issue, then you can make wise decisions with confidence.
Identify where you lack confidence. What makes you nervous? What situations inhibit you from being yourself? Why can't you make decisions? Is it that you don't know how to make decisions? Or that you doubt your decisions after they're made? Or you just don't feel like making decisions?
Enjoy making decisions. Deal with the world you live in. That's loving the dynamics of life.
Isolate Your Blocks
Anytime you find it difficult to achieve a goal, figure out what's holding you back.
Everyone has problems. Being aware of these problems is the key to getting in touch with yourself. Because as long as you don't face problems, they fester and bug you from behind.
Write your "blocks" on a piece of paper. That's a good step in the right direction. By isolating specific obstacles, you turn them into concrete challenges that require solutions.
Ask yourself:
Am I lazy? Why?
Am I disorganized? Why?
Do I get angry? When?
Why do ever I get defensive? About what?
What makes me jealous?
What makes me arrogant?
Do I have trouble making decisions? Why?
Do I lack self-discipline?
Do I lack self-confidence?
Why don't I take more initiative?
Negative character traits are the roots of our problems. Make a list of your negative traits, and identify when they affect you the most. Then analyze what triggers these reactions in you. Finally, formulate an effective counter-approach.
Working through this takes time. But do you have anything better to be doing right now?
Read Your Emotions
Get in touch with your emotional state. Take a reading of how you feel. Happy? Angry? Tense? Sad? Emotions are a measuring stick for what's going on below the surface. It's like taking your temperature. If you're sick, you need to be aware so you can fix the problem.
Find out why you're upset. Who or what is pressuring you? Is it an internal or an external problem? Identify it.
Let's say you are irritated. Why?
Because the boss chewed me out.
So why am I irritated?
Because I resent him.
So what? Why does that bother me?
Because I feel I am no good.
I'm no good? He's nuts!
Get out of yourself and track it down. If you don't, it's just irritation. And the next thing you know, you'll go home and yell at your kids.
Once you've identified what causes negative feelings, adjust yourself to minimize the impact. Either avoid these situations, or prepare yourself to handle them when they arise.
Further, root out negative motivations that corrupt your behavior. Let's say that you give charity. Why? One motivation is to help humanity. Another is the pleasure of being constructive. A third is the desire to do the right thing. These are all positive motivations. A negative motivation for giving charity is: "I want people to admire me." That's corruptive.
The next time you give charity, do so anonymously. Eliminate the wrong reasons. They are destructive.
The same goes with the positive emotions. Be aware of how your emotional state affects decisions. For example, don't buy a new stereo when you're in a euphoric mood. Wait. Think it over. You are susceptible.
Pinpoint what makes you happy. You can have more joy on a daily basis by formulating some practical applications. You got up in the morning, it's a gorgeous day and you feet great. You're energized. Now take that feeling and teach yourself how to get up on the right side – every day!
Another example: You did a good job and got the boss's compliment. Now focus: Do you need the boss to tell you did a good job? No! Create your own pleasure out of doing a good job.
Get In Touch With Your Two Sides
Everyone has an urge for greatness. We want self respect, power, fame. We want to accomplish, to be strong, to do the right thing, to even save the world.
Yet at the same time, we have a counter-urge to run away from responsibility, to get into bed and crawl under the covers.
Someone may say, "Life is beautiful," but he doesn't feel it. His emotions hold him back and he walks around going, "Ugh, life is a burden."
Recognize the volcano of conflict within you: What you truly "want," versus what you "feel" like. This is the conflict between body and soul.
Once you appreciate the dichotomy, you can identify at any moment whether your body or soul is talking. This makes it possible to live with sanity and choose the right thing.
The next step is to make peace between your two sides. The easiest way is to squash your drive to be great. But life is not about taking the easy way out. Just because you feel uncomfortable about an idea doesn't mean it's wrong for you. It's hard to break habits, and growth can be frightening.
For example, would you rather be happy or rich? Okay, you'd rather be happy. Now imagine this exchange:
"Come on, I'll teach you how to be happy. All it requires is effort and change."
"Oh, I'd love to, but I can't right now. It's impossible. I've got a flight to catch."
"Really? I'll pay you $10,000 a week to work on happiness."
"Sure! Where do I sign up?"
"Oh, but I thought you can't right now..."
We conceal our problems with rationalization: "I'll wreck my mind thinking about what life is about! Nobody really knows what life is about. It's not going to work. Nothing can be done about it anyway. I don't really care. It's not worth the time!"
The Sages say that a person only makes a mistake when overcome by a moment of insanity. So realize that you are fighting "insanity." It is not logical. You've got to be on guard. Because if you get off track, you'll pay for it down the road.
So ... do you want to change? What have you got against it? Feel the antipathy of the body. We are so darn lazy. The body just wants to sleep. "Aaaah ... I don't want to change. I'm happy enough. I'm comfortable in my niche of misery." Are you rich enough? No! So are you happy enough?
You see the importance of tracking that down? You have to identify the animal you are fighting. "The dread of change."
If you're alert, you see the enemy. You can fight it. You may lose a struggle with the body, but at least you have your confidence. "I know what I am doing."
Coax the Body
Get in touch with your spiritual core. Know what is driving you. Don't let free will be a subconscious thing. You want greatness. But the body says that's too much effort.
To try to convince the body, try to identify the tangible benefit. "Why is it necessary? What will it do for me?" You have to bring it home to emotional realization. "What do I lose?" What do I gain?" Only then will the idea have power. And you'll get out there and do it.
Here's the secret formula: Identify with your intellect, and coax your heart along. For example, if you're emotionally convinced of the benefit of getting into shape, then even when you break out in a cold sweat and your heart is doing palpitations, you will keep going. Because you have decided, "I want this," you know it is important.
To avoid negative backlash, your emotions have to feel comfortable with the changes you make. Learn to relax and reassure the body. Cajole the body and say, "It won't be so bad. Remember the last time you made an effort, how great you felt!" Be encouraging and reward yourself for success.
Don't say it doesn't work. You haven't made the effort. Don't give up on your intuition and perception. Just realize you haven't yet brought it home to actualization.
Consider how the basic human drives affect you: security, self-respect, honor, passions, social pressure, and possessions. Pay particularly close attention to how you accept responsibility. Let's say that you made a mistake. You want to apologize in a full and forthright manner. Yet you feel like forgetting the whole thing, hiding, running away and saying "it's not my fault."
This is the volcano. We want to be tough, dedicated and powerful – yet we feel like being marshmallows. Choosing the path of the soul doesn't come naturally. It takes a lot of time and hard work.
Know What You Know
Don't think that just because you understand something, you are living with it. It is possible to believe one way, and yet act another. It happens to us all the time. You can believe it's important to eat healthy food, yet gorge yourself on French fries and chocolate cake.
Our actions are determined by our level of clarity. If we understand an idea on just a superficial level, then we'll have difficulty sticking to it when the going gets tough.
Next time you go to a funeral, watch carefully. When they remove the body from the chapel, the mourners start to cry. Are they crying because they want to body to stay there?! No. All of a sudden there is a realization of death, that he won't be coming back. At the cemetery, they lower the casket into the ground and the mourners cry again. It's the emotional realization that death is final now.
Until you align your feelings with reality, you are in dreamland. Growth begins in the mind, but your heart has to buy into everything your mind discovers. Only then will you integrate these ideas into day-to-day life.
A lot of people believe in God. There are very few people who live with God. Does that make sense? You have to assimilate something that you've accepted as true. It has to become part of you.
Five-Finger Clarity
You've got to know yourself cold, just like you know your hand has five fingers. How do you know you are on the right path? How do you know you're not making a mistake right now?
To develop this clarity, articulate the important principles that guide your life. For example, in Judaism we say that love is an obligation. Is this reasonable? Work the issue through with yourself:
"Ridiculous. You can't obligate me to love."
"But if I have children, will I love them?"
"Of course I'm going to love my kids!"
"How do I know? I don't know what kind of kids I'm going to have. Maybe they'll be brats and I won't love them."
"I will. I'm obligated to love my children."
Do you see the contradiction? On an intuitive level, you know that love is an obligation. But the concept is not so clear that you can articulate it.
Take your time. Sort out the basic aspects of living. Ask yourself important questions about life's global and spiritual issues.
What is the meaning of existence?
What's good about living?
How do I feel about humanity?
What is the afterlife?
How do I understand good versus evil?
Do I have free will? How do I activate it?
What makes me sad? Is it okay to be sad?
How do I feel about God?
Am I proud to be a Jew?
How do I understand the Holocaust?
Some of these topics may be unpleasant to think about. If so, why is it unpleasant? Track it down.
Click here to receive Aish.com's free weekly email.
Don't just use slogans to parrot things that you heard. Know why you are doing what you are doing. Otherwise, it's just society talking. You may have adopted part of society without analyzing its validity. Check it out.
Work through all the issues until you have "five-finger clarity." A human being who knows what he wants will get there. By hook or by crook. It's like a homing mechanism on a missile. If you program it right, you will get there.
Why Is "Knowing Yourself" a Way to Wisdom?
You can know truth if you look honestly into yourself.
Emotions are powerful forces of greatness. Know them. Harness them.
Identify your problems. It's the beginning of solving them.
If you don't get it straight now, you're bound to make some bad mistakes.
Don't be afraid of finding out who you really are.
Use your free will as a conscious tool for better living.
If you're angry or upset, track it down. What's the root?
If you're acting illogically, at least acknowledge that to yourself!
The key to sanity is letting truth into the body.
You can't afford to wait too long to get to know yourself. Because you are the most fascinating person you'll ever meet.
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Posts : 48921
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Thu 07 Nov 2013, 8:20 pm

Way #4: Introduce Yourself to Yourself
Don't go through life making assumptions about who you are. Take time now before a crisis comes along and forces the issue.
by Rabbi Noah Weinberg
Did you ever get on a train going somewhere, only to find that you're headed in the wrong direction?
The same thing happens in life. We set goals and make plans – and sometimes discover that we're on "the wrong train."
Bi-vinat ha-lave literally means "understanding the heart." The heart is the seat of emotions. We say: "My heart is heavy, my heart is lifted, my heart is broken," etc. To understand your heart is to understand your true inner self.
Many people go through life making assumptions about who they are. They never take time to "meet" themselves. Don't be afraid of discovering that the "real you" may be different than the "current you."
Often a crisis hits at midlife when people ask: "What's my life about? Is this all worth it?" We've heard stories of people who suddenly change direction, quitting their job and getting divorced. You know, like the successful doctor who decides he never wanted to go into medicine in the first place – so he drops it and becomes an artist.
Knowing yourself is the essence of being alive. If you don't know yourself, you are not living. If you don't know what makes you tick, you're a robot, a puppet, a zombie.
So don't wait for a crisis. Life is too short to take wrong trains.
Getting Started
Think of someone you'd be fascinated to meet, someone you'd really like to find out what makes him tick.
Now realize the most fascinating person you could ever meet is... yourself.
Sit down, say hello, and introduce yourself to yourself. Become familiar with yourself as if you'd just met a long-lost cousin. Interview yourself. Ask questions about your life and the direction you're going. Search out your dreams – both the ones you're fulfilling and the ones you've pushed to the back of your mind.
Get down to basics. You want to be rich. You want to be famous. You want to be good. You want to accomplish. You want meaning. You want to be creative. But why do you want all this? What's driving you? What you really want out of life?
The process of self-discovery involves asking a series of questions, always probing deeper until the underlying truth emerges. Ask yourself 10 questions that you would ask an intimate friend. Then wait for answers. Don't worry, no one is going to poke fun at you.
What is the purpose of life?
What is my goal in life?
Why did I choose this career?
How do I spend my spare time?
What is my motivation for doing what I do?
What really makes me happy?
Am I as happy as I want to be?
Is it more important to be rich or to be happy?
What are my future plans? Why?
What are my secret dreams and ambitions?
Don't be surprised if the answers aren't immediate. This process can take many months. Stick with it and find out what makes you tick. The answers are hiding in there. After all, you have a fascinating partner.
Finally, the most important question to ask is:
"What am I living for?"
It sounds like a simple question, but many are embarrassed to ask it. A voice inside us says, "Nah, why ask such a basic question?" We're resistant because we know this requires a lot of difficult soul-searching. And when you thoroughly know yourself, then you have changed. You've changed your relationship with yourself and the world.
Confidence in Decision-Making
People often avoid making decisions out of fear of making a mistake.
Actually, the failure to make decisions is one of life's biggest mistakes.
Imagine the beggar who receives a letter saying that he's inherited a million dollars. If he doesn't read the letter, is he rich ... or not?
Similarly, God gave us the free will to make choices in life and achieve greatness. But if we're not aware of our free will, then we don't really have it. And then we wind up blaming others when things go wrong – even though we know the decision is really up to us.
If you're not using your potential, it wears away at your confidence. Do you know what your potential is? Have you tried to use it? You have to tackle life. You haven't given up yet, have you? Let's get on with the game, with the business of really living, of not just "going through the motions."
Know the difference between "making decisions" and just floating, falling into place. Did you choose to go to college? Or perhaps you had nothing to do with the decision. Was it something you just did because you graduated high school and everybody else was doing it? Did you think it through and actually make a decision?
Imagine this private conversation of a college student:
Why am I going to college?
To get a degree.
Why?
Because I want to get into a good graduate school.
Why?
So I'll get a good job.
Why?
So I can pay back my college loans!
Through the process of questioning, he reveals a logical fault in his motivation. Really, the primary reason for going to college should be to acquire wisdom, knowledge and information. In other words, to get an education!
Now try the process yourself, using this example:
Why do I want to get married?
Don't accept pat answers. Keep asking "Why, why why?" Be frank. It's yourself. Ask any question you like. Be patient and persistent. Eventually you'll get an answer.
When you thoroughly analyze an issue, then you can make wise decisions with confidence.
Identify where you lack confidence. What makes you nervous? What situations inhibit you from being yourself? Why can't you make decisions? Is it that you don't know how to make decisions? Or that you doubt your decisions after they're made? Or you just don't feel like making decisions?
Enjoy making decisions. Deal with the world you live in. That's loving the dynamics of life.
Isolate Your Blocks
Anytime you find it difficult to achieve a goal, figure out what's holding you back.
Everyone has problems. Being aware of these problems is the key to getting in touch with yourself. Because as long as you don't face problems, they fester and bug you from behind.
Write your "blocks" on a piece of paper. That's a good step in the right direction. By isolating specific obstacles, you turn them into concrete challenges that require solutions.
Ask yourself:
Am I lazy? Why?
Am I disorganized? Why?
Do I get angry? When?
Why do ever I get defensive? About what?
What makes me jealous?
What makes me arrogant?
Do I have trouble making decisions? Why?
Do I lack self-discipline?
Do I lack self-confidence?
Why don't I take more initiative?
Negative character traits are the roots of our problems. Make a list of your negative traits, and identify when they affect you the most. Then analyze what triggers these reactions in you. Finally, formulate an effective counter-approach.
Working through this takes time. But do you have anything better to be doing right now?
Read Your Emotions
Get in touch with your emotional state. Take a reading of how you feel. Happy? Angry? Tense? Sad? Emotions are a measuring stick for what's going on below the surface. It's like taking your temperature. If you're sick, you need to be aware so you can fix the problem.
Find out why you're upset. Who or what is pressuring you? Is it an internal or an external problem? Identify it.
Let's say you are irritated. Why?
Because the boss chewed me out.
So why am I irritated?
Because I resent him.
So what? Why does that bother me?
Because I feel I am no good.
I'm no good? He's nuts!
Get out of yourself and track it down. If you don't, it's just irritation. And the next thing you know, you'll go home and yell at your kids.
Once you've identified what causes negative feelings, adjust yourself to minimize the impact. Either avoid these situations, or prepare yourself to handle them when they arise.
Further, root out negative motivations that corrupt your behavior. Let's say that you give charity. Why? One motivation is to help humanity. Another is the pleasure of being constructive. A third is the desire to do the right thing. These are all positive motivations. A negative motivation for giving charity is: "I want people to admire me." That's corruptive.
The next time you give charity, do so anonymously. Eliminate the wrong reasons. They are destructive.
The same goes with the positive emotions. Be aware of how your emotional state affects decisions. For example, don't buy a new stereo when you're in a euphoric mood. Wait. Think it over. You are susceptible.
Pinpoint what makes you happy. You can have more joy on a daily basis by formulating some practical applications. You got up in the morning, it's a gorgeous day and you feet great. You're energized. Now take that feeling and teach yourself how to get up on the right side – every day!
Another example: You did a good job and got the boss's compliment. Now focus: Do you need the boss to tell you did a good job? No! Create your own pleasure out of doing a good job.
Get In Touch With Your Two Sides
Everyone has an urge for greatness. We want self respect, power, fame. We want to accomplish, to be strong, to do the right thing, to even save the world.
Yet at the same time, we have a counter-urge to run away from responsibility, to get into bed and crawl under the covers.
Someone may say, "Life is beautiful," but he doesn't feel it. His emotions hold him back and he walks around going, "Ugh, life is a burden."
Recognize the volcano of conflict within you: What you truly "want," versus what you "feel" like. This is the conflict between body and soul.
Once you appreciate the dichotomy, you can identify at any moment whether your body or soul is talking. This makes it possible to live with sanity and choose the right thing.
The next step is to make peace between your two sides. The easiest way is to squash your drive to be great. But life is not about taking the easy way out. Just because you feel uncomfortable about an idea doesn't mean it's wrong for you. It's hard to break habits, and growth can be frightening.
For example, would you rather be happy or rich? Okay, you'd rather be happy. Now imagine this exchange:
"Come on, I'll teach you how to be happy. All it requires is effort and change."
"Oh, I'd love to, but I can't right now. It's impossible. I've got a flight to catch."
"Really? I'll pay you $10,000 a week to work on happiness."
"Sure! Where do I sign up?"
"Oh, but I thought you can't right now..."
We conceal our problems with rationalization: "I'll wreck my mind thinking about what life is about! Nobody really knows what life is about. It's not going to work. Nothing can be done about it anyway. I don't really care. It's not worth the time!"
The Sages say that a person only makes a mistake when overcome by a moment of insanity. So realize that you are fighting "insanity." It is not logical. You've got to be on guard. Because if you get off track, you'll pay for it down the road.
So ... do you want to change? What have you got against it? Feel the antipathy of the body. We are so darn lazy. The body just wants to sleep. "Aaaah ... I don't want to change. I'm happy enough. I'm comfortable in my niche of misery." Are you rich enough? No! So are you happy enough?
You see the importance of tracking that down? You have to identify the animal you are fighting. "The dread of change."
If you're alert, you see the enemy. You can fight it. You may lose a struggle with the body, but at least you have your confidence. "I know what I am doing."
Coax the Body
Get in touch with your spiritual core. Know what is driving you. Don't let free will be a subconscious thing. You want greatness. But the body says that's too much effort.
To try to convince the body, try to identify the tangible benefit. "Why is it necessary? What will it do for me?" You have to bring it home to emotional realization. "What do I lose?" What do I gain?" Only then will the idea have power. And you'll get out there and do it.
Here's the secret formula: Identify with your intellect, and coax your heart along. For example, if you're emotionally convinced of the benefit of getting into shape, then even when you break out in a cold sweat and your heart is doing palpitations, you will keep going. Because you have decided, "I want this," you know it is important.
To avoid negative backlash, your emotions have to feel comfortable with the changes you make. Learn to relax and reassure the body. Cajole the body and say, "It won't be so bad. Remember the last time you made an effort, how great you felt!" Be encouraging and reward yourself for success.
Don't say it doesn't work. You haven't made the effort. Don't give up on your intuition and perception. Just realize you haven't yet brought it home to actualization.
Consider how the basic human drives affect you: security, self-respect, honor, passions, social pressure, and possessions. Pay particularly close attention to how you accept responsibility. Let's say that you made a mistake. You want to apologize in a full and forthright manner. Yet you feel like forgetting the whole thing, hiding, running away and saying "it's not my fault."
This is the volcano. We want to be tough, dedicated and powerful – yet we feel like being marshmallows. Choosing the path of the soul doesn't come naturally. It takes a lot of time and hard work.
Know What You Know
Don't think that just because you understand something, you are living with it. It is possible to believe one way, and yet act another. It happens to us all the time. You can believe it's important to eat healthy food, yet gorge yourself on French fries and chocolate cake.
Our actions are determined by our level of clarity. If we understand an idea on just a superficial level, then we'll have difficulty sticking to it when the going gets tough.
Next time you go to a funeral, watch carefully. When they remove the body from the chapel, the mourners start to cry. Are they crying because they want to body to stay there?! No. All of a sudden there is a realization of death, that he won't be coming back. At the cemetery, they lower the casket into the ground and the mourners cry again. It's the emotional realization that death is final now.
Until you align your feelings with reality, you are in dreamland. Growth begins in the mind, but your heart has to buy into everything your mind discovers. Only then will you integrate these ideas into day-to-day life.
A lot of people believe in God. There are very few people who live with God. Does that make sense? You have to assimilate something that you've accepted as true. It has to become part of you.
Five-Finger Clarity
You've got to know yourself cold, just like you know your hand has five fingers. How do you know you are on the right path? How do you know you're not making a mistake right now?
To develop this clarity, articulate the important principles that guide your life. For example, in Judaism we say that love is an obligation. Is this reasonable? Work the issue through with yourself:
"Ridiculous. You can't obligate me to love."
"But if I have children, will I love them?"
"Of course I'm going to love my kids!"
"How do I know? I don't know what kind of kids I'm going to have. Maybe they'll be brats and I won't love them."
"I will. I'm obligated to love my children."
Do you see the contradiction? On an intuitive level, you know that love is an obligation. But the concept is not so clear that you can articulate it.
Take your time. Sort out the basic aspects of living. Ask yourself important questions about life's global and spiritual issues.
What is the meaning of existence?
What's good about living?
How do I feel about humanity?
What is the afterlife?
How do I understand good versus evil?
Do I have free will? How do I activate it?
What makes me sad? Is it okay to be sad?
How do I feel about God?
Am I proud to be a Jew?
How do I understand the Holocaust?
Some of these topics may be unpleasant to think about. If so, why is it unpleasant? Track it down.
Click here to receive Aish.com's free weekly email.
Don't just use slogans to parrot things that you heard. Know why you are doing what you are doing. Otherwise, it's just society talking. You may have adopted part of society without analyzing its validity. Check it out.
Work through all the issues until you have "five-finger clarity." A human being who knows what he wants will get there. By hook or by crook. It's like a homing mechanism on a missile. If you program it right, you will get there.
Why Is "Knowing Yourself" a Way to Wisdom?
You can know truth if you look honestly into yourself.
Emotions are powerful forces of greatness. Know them. Harness them.
Identify your problems. It's the beginning of solving them.
If you don't get it straight now, you're bound to make some bad mistakes.
Don't be afraid of finding out who you really are.
Use your free will as a conscious tool for better living.
If you're angry or upset, track it down. What's the root?
If you're acting illogically, at least acknowledge that to yourself!
The key to sanity is letting truth into the body.
You can't afford to wait too long to get to know yourself. Because you are the most fascinating person you'll ever meet.
avatar
Admin
Admin

Posts : 48921
Join date : 2008-10-25
Age : 72
Location : Wales UK

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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Wed 23 Oct 2013, 1:01 pm

Seeing the Light in Darkness
A rabbi whose wife had breast cancer shares his tools for developing trust in God.
The following article was written 10 days before the author's wife passed away, tragically, on August 8, 2001 (19 Av 5761). May the soul of Elana Golda bas Yisroel Mordechai be bound in the bond of eternal life.

As with all good things in life, trust in God does not just happen. You don't go to bed one night feeling that God is out to get you and wake up the next day confident that you can rely on Him – no matter what you take.
If you want to trust God, it is going to take conscious effort to develop and maintain the emotion.
My wife has metastatic breast cancer. If you are au fait with cancer jargon, you will know that the situation is pretty bad.
At the time she was first diagnosed, I realized that I had many options. I could hide in a corner and block out the world. I could pretend to myself that everything was okay. I could accept the 'inevitable' (as doctors would say) and enjoy the time we had left. Or I could develop a sense of trust in God and allow myself to feel that we are in very good hands.
The last option seemed the most appealing (and the most reasonable). So I set out to try to develop an emotion within myself that was, until that time, pretty dormant. I still have my bad moments. It's not so easy to trust in God when you get bad news after bad news after bad news. Not so easy, but equally not impossible. My pain is usually short-lived and I can quickly reactivate a confidence that God is here with me and I have nothing to fear. Each new development brings with it a test that I cannot be sure I will pass, but, so far so good. If anything, as the situation has worsened, my trust has been growing.

I want to share with you the lessons that I learned, from a number of wise people, in terms of how to develop a feeling of trust. I guarantee that if you put in the time and energy, it works. And it's worth it. You can put your time into fitness and be rewarded with a healthy body. You can put your time into business and be rewarded with material success. Put your time into trusting in God and you will be rewarded with tranquility of heart and mind for eternity.
Two Prerequisites
So how do you do it?
Let's begin with two prerequisites.
Firstly, trust is a feeling. You can intellectualize all you want, but if you don't 'feel' confident that someone will catch you at the bottom, you aren't going to jump.
There is the old story of an atheist who falls off a 2,000-foot smooth cliff. He grabs onto the one twig there is 1,000 feet down. He looks up to Heaven and figures it's worth a shot.
'Is there anybody up there?' he asks.
'Yes, it's me, God,' comes the response.
'Thank God for that,' the atheist replies. 'Please God, help me. I'll do anything.'
'Of course, my son. But I have just one request to make.'
'Anything, God,' replies the atheist.
'I will save you, my child,' says God, 'but you have to trust me first. Let go of the twig and I will catch you.'
Trusting God emotionally is different than intellectually knowing He exists.
The atheist looks down at the rocks 1,000 feet below and looks up again.
'Is there anybody else up there?'
The point is clear. You can know there is a God intellectually, but that doesn't mean you will trust Him emotionally. A person can switch from being an atheist to one who knows there is a God in a moment – if he or she were to have a clear experience of God. But trusting in God is a very different matter.
Knowing God Exists
The second prerequisite is that if you want to trust God, you have to first know He exists and loves you. We have a dangerous ability to feel emotions that are intellectually unsupported and unsupportable. People can feel 'love' for a person who has none of the qualities required in order to love them. It's called infatuation. People can find deep meaning in something that is utterly meaningless (Timothy McVeigh felt it was deeply meaningful to kill over one hundred people in Oklahoma.) And people can have faith in something that, intellectually, is clearly false – the Moonies and other cults prey on this constantly.

So too, people can trust in God without being sure that He even exists. It's very possible, but dangerous and incorrect in Jewish thinking. It's dangerous because it's mindless. And wherever there is mindlessness, there is escape from Godliness. And where there is escape from Godliness, there cannot be deep-rooted trust.
Trust cannot be a crutch. It must start with the mind and spread through to the emotions. Otherwise, it is a castle built on sand.

So how do we go about feeling trust in God in a seemingly dark and lonely world? How do we get in touch with the fact that there is a God, whom we can rely on, when at times He seems so distant and impersonal?

The following steps are predicated on the intellectual belief in God's existence. If you've got that, then this is how you can go about getting yourself on the road to trusting Him.
According to the 10th Century classic, Chovot Halevavot, Duties of the Heart, there are seven elements involved in trust in God. If you feel all seven, you will feel trust. I am using an order put together by Rabbi Weinberg, the Rosh Yeshiva of Aish Hatorah. I will explain how I personally relate to each one in the context of my wife's illness in order to make them more practical and relatable.
(1) Tell yourself that: God loves me with a love that is deeper than any parent has ever loved any child. He loves me as a unique individual. I am his special, sweet little baby.
I personally try to imagine God holding me in His arms, smiling at me, as I do with my children, enveloping me with His love.


(2) God knows my every need, my every challenge, and my every problem. He knows what I feel, what I think, what concerns me, what worries me. He knows exactly what's on my mind and He knows it constantly. He doesn't forget about me, not even for a moment. Nothing slips past Him. He 'thinks' about me and my problems 24/7.God knows the location of every cancer cell in my wife's body.
He knows the location of every cancer cell in my wife's body. No rogue cell can slip by His notice and start growing on its own. He is fully aware and cognizant of all that is going on. He also knows what I am worried by. He knows exactly what I am feeling, exactly what I want. He hears every one of my prayers.


(3) God has the power to do anything. There is nothing that I need that he cannot provide. Nothing I am lacking that He cannot give me. He is able to solve all of my problems and solve them immediately. He is able to prevent any problem arising.
He is able to take away every cancer cell instantly. He can change the whole situation around in a moment. And it's not difficult for Him to do so. My wife could jump out of bed tomorrow, free of cancer, as though nothing had ever happened.


(4) Nothing else has any power. There is nothing that works independent of God. Nothing, no matter how small, can or does happen without His full approval. He does not give over His power to other forces. He remains in full control at all times.
There is no cancer; there is just God. There is no chemotherapy; there is just God. Cancer cells do not grow by themselves; God makes them grow. And there is not a single one that can grow without God's 'expressed' desire for it to do so. God and cancer are not adversaries. They are partners.


(5) God has done so much for me until now. He has given me life. He has given me freewill. He makes my heart beat. He makes the blood run round my body. He gives me air to breathe, food to eat. He provides warmth. You name it, He has done it. He has a track record of complete and utter goodness. Anything that I need or want is like asking my father for a dime to make a phone call. I have no doubt that He will give it to me because He has already given me so much. Anything I could possibly want is so small compared to His goodness to me so far.
Taking the cancer away is nothing compared to making my heart constantly pump just enough oxygen to my brain for the past 35 years. And He did that without my even asking.


(6) God's love is unconditional. It is not dependent on my actions or my way of life. Like a good parent, He loves me no matter what. Even when I stumble and make some very big mistakes, He still loves me. Even when I completely ignore Him, He still loves me. His love is with me no matter who I am or what I do. Despite all my imperfections, I can feel secure that God is still backing me.
Taking the cancer away is nothing compared to the good God has done for me.
God would like me to be great. His expectations for me are massive – because of what I can accomplish with the soul he has given me. Nevertheless, I could waste it all and he might still make my wife better, just because he loves me.


(7) Like any good parent, God will always give me just what I need. Life will not always be exactly what I want to it be. He might not give me what I think will be good for me. But He will always give me what is really good for me. No matter what I am going through, it is exactly what I need to be going through.
Whatever God might have in store for me, the road this illness is taking us down is a road we need to traverse. And wherever that road might lead, its destination is where we need to be.
For me, this final point creates the greatest sense of trust and security. No matter what I am going through – no matter how 'bad' or painful it may seem, I know that it is for my ultimate good.

Try feeling each of these elements a number of times a day. Don't spend too much time on each one – you may find that frustrating. Taking one minute to focus on these points a few times a day will make a significant impact.
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Working on feeling these seven elements has been very powerful for me. It has brought a tremendous sense of security into my life. Spending a few minutes a day is a small price to pay for the dividends that you can reap from developing trust.
Only God knows what will be. But there is one thing I do know. God is giving us, and will give us, just what we need.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Wed 25 Sep 2013, 5:13 pm

Simchat Torah: Just You and Me
Amidst all the dancing and revelry, we realize just how alone we are with God.
by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld
Simchat Torah is given a curious description in Torah: “On the eighth day shall be a holy convocation to you… it is a holding back (atzeret)” (Leviticus 23:36). What in the world is a “holding back?”

The Midrash explains: God says to Israel, “I hold you back unto Me.” It is as a king who invites his children to a feast for a number of days. When it is time for them to depart, he says, “My sons, please remain with me one more day. Your departure is difficult for me.” We have just gone through a Rosh Hashanah, a Yom Kippur, and a Sukkot together. I have judged you, forgiven you, and shaded you in My protective Clouds. And I don’t want to let go of you so soon. Stay for just one more day.
Why do we celebrate the Torah on this day?
There is thus something very intimate about Simchat Torah. After celebrating so many other festive occasions, God asks for one last day – just us alone. No special activities – no shofar, no judgment, no sukkah, no lulav. Let’s put it all aside and spend one more today together – just Me and you. In fact, the earlier holidays related to all mankind: On the High Holidays God judges the entire world. On Sukkot we would bring Temple sacrifices for the well-being of all the nations. But not Simchat Torah. God asks for just a little quiet time together. No one else; just the two of us.

How do we celebrate our special day with God? By taking His special gift to the Jewish people – by holding and dancing with His Torah.
But why do we celebrate the Torah on this day? Didn’t we receive the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot – which commemorates the Revelation at Mount Sinai? Why the opposite end of the year?

The answer is that we lost the Torah we received on Shavuot. After the Revelation, Moses remained on the mountain for 40 days as God taught him the Torah he was to teach the nation. He descended the mountain only to find a fraction of the nation dancing around a Golden Calf – with most of the people indifferent to the tragic affair. Moses smashed the Tablets, annulling our first “marriage” with God. We had lost the Torah we had only so recently acquired; we had failed to live up to its ideals.

Moses spent the next 40 days beseeching God not to wipe out the nation utterly. He then spent another 40 days on Mount Sinai receiving the Second Tablets. He returned at last on Yom Kippur, when God forgave the nation entirely. This is the Torah we celebrate on Simchat Torah.

There are thus two dates in the Jewish calendar in which we celebrate the Torah – Shavuot and Simchat Torah. On Shavuot we celebrate the Torah we had but lost. Why celebrate what we lost? Because the awe-inspiring event of the Revelation at Sinai was one the world would never forget. God descended onto Mount Sinai in all His glory. The world, all of creation stood frozen before God’s overwhelming presence. And Israel was terrified, shaken to the core. We begged Moses to act as intermediary between God and us, “for who of all flesh hears the voice of the Living God speaking from the fire like us and lives?” (Deut. 5:23). It was an overawing experience, one which we as a nation as well as the world over would never forget.
Today many people celebrate Shavuot by staying up the night of the holiday studying Torah. Who can sleep the night before such an earth-shattering event? But not once on Shavuot do we ask ourselves if we are keeping the Torah God gave us. For the Torah of Mount Sinai is not the Torah we have today. The Revelation was the greatest national event which ever occurred to us, but it was one we not able to live up to.
A Personal Torah
By contrast, on Simchat Torah we do not celebrate our national receiving of the Torah; we celebrate our personal one. God gave us the Second Tablets because He deemed us worthy of receiving them. He had just forgiven us on Yom Kippur and decided to take us anew. And we celebrate by each of us holding close that Torah God entrusted us with and dancing with it. And likewise every single member of the synagogue is called up to the Torah for the reading of a section.
Dancing in a crowd is actually a very personal experience.
Anyone who has experienced dancing in a crowd knows that it is actually a very personal experience. In spite of vast numbers of people surrounding you, you feel very alone. You lose yourself within a great moving mass of people, unaware of the individuals within the group and your location within it.

When we dance on Simchat Torah we celebrate our very personal connection to the Torah. We at once feel ourselves a part of the great body of Israel, yet at the same time we feel very alone with our God. This is not only the Torah of the nation of Israel; it is my own Torah. And each of us holds the Torah and celebrates just what God’s wisdom means to him personally. For everyone has his or her own perspective on God’s Torah. Everyone has his story, how the Torah has touched his life and how he has become who he is today.
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My grandfather’s family came to the United States from the Ukraine in the early 20th century. He was one of 11 children in a very traditional family. They settled in Philadelphia. In a story repeated literally 2 million times, the children were sent off to public school and became “Americanized,” losing most of their religious observances in the process.
All except for my grandfather. Nearly 100 years ago, a local rabbi convinced his father to send his son Abraham to yeshiva in New York. Arriving as a teenager on the original Armistice Day of 1918, he attended what would later become Yeshiva University. He went on to earn rabbinic ordination – as did his son and grandsons after him.

Every one of us has his personal story, how he came to be who he is today and what the Torah means to him. For the Torah is the possession of all of us. No one has the monopoly on God’s wisdom. It is wisdom we can all study and grow from – and recognize its personal message to us. For when we dance on Simchat Torah, we celebrate the fact that we have been cleansed on Yom Kippur. We celebrate that God has once again accepted us. And we celebrate that the Torah is once again ours.

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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Wed 25 Sep 2013, 5:02 pm

Temple Mount Gold
Ancient gold treasure from 6th century discovered in Jerusalem.
by Toby Klein Greenwald
"A discovery like this happens once in a lifetime! It is breathtaking!
That is the way Eilat Mazar described the exquisite gold medallion engraved with a menorah, a shofar and a small sefer Torah (Torah scroll), that was discovered in her latest dig in the Ophel Excavations.
And that's not all. Along with the medallion, 10 centimeters in diameter and on a gold chain, her team found gold jewelry and coins, a virtual treasure trove, all of them in a Byzantine structure, 50 meters south of the Temple Mount, just outside the southern walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.

These comprise two gold hoards from the 6th century, and what makes it all the more fantastic is that it was totally unexpected.
They were only five days into the dig when Caridad (Cari) French, a young digger from abroad, together with Ahinoam Meyers, her Israeli digging partner, found what she thought was a copper earring, then another one. The women thought that they were modern, since they were so shiny, but then they dug some more and found gold coins, and the rest of the diggers, including Mazar herself, joined them, instructing everyone to use no sharp objects, only small paintbrushes to softly brush away the dirt. Suddenly the gold medallion came into view. Cari says in a short film made about the discovery: "My eyes were lit up. I'd never seen anything like that in my life."
Mazar states unequivocally, "The Bible is the most important historical source."
The discovery is all the sweeter because Mazar is considered controversial among some Israeli archeologists. She flies in the face of what many of them believe to be more scientific methods, because her blueprint has always been the Bible. She states unequivocally, "The Bible is the most important historical source."
Constantly Seeking Solomon
Credit: Eilat Mazar
In April, 2013, Mazar had begun the latest phase of her dig at the Ophel, with hope of finding more evidence relating to the period of Solomon's Temple, which she did as well. "I always consider my whole excavation, revealing the monumental construction of the 10th century BCE in Jerusalem, related to King David and King Solomon, as the most important enterprise in Jerusalem,” she told Aish.com when asked what she considers her most important finds. “It's not one item but a very large excavation project.”

"Revealing more about tenth generation BCE Jerusalem, from the Biblical period, is what inspires me every day, and I feel it is the pick of my archeological excavations." She is especially proud of “the Solomonic wall, the fortification line, along the Ofel area. Every year we go back there and we reveal another portion of the same thing.

"But I feel obligated to all periods related to Jerusalem. What we revealed on September 9th to the public is the treasure hoard of the Byzantine period, 2700 years later.

"We did expect to find strata, layers of living, but we didn’t expect to find any hoards. We were at the early stages of a Byzantine layer when gold coins began to appear and there were more and more and then we came to the big medallion with Jewish symbols."
Mazar describes her partners in the dig. "They are young people from abroad, volunteer students of Herbert W. Armstrong College from Edmund, Oklahoma, who come for the whole season. There are young Israelis who are paid workers and most of them are students. Some are students of archeology but not all." Armstrong students have been volunteering at Mazar's digs since 2006. This year there were 13 of them, one-third of her workforce. The work is done on behalf of Hebrew University, in cooperation with the Antiquities Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. Mazar is also a senior fellow at the Shalem Center.

The only other medallion of similar, though not identical, qualities is on display in the Jewish Museum in London, its origins unknown. Reuven Peretz, archeologist and historian of the Hebrew University Institute of Archeology, says that the symbols on the medallion of the menorah and the shofar were common during the Byzantine times, but the symbol of the sefer Torah was usually found outside of Israel, in Rome or elsewhere. The medallion in London, he says, has a Greek inscription on it, noting that it was donated by Jacob, the leader of the synagogue and community, who was also a pearl-setter, and therefore probably a wealthy man.
A medallion such as this has never been discovered in any dig.
"A medallion such as this has never been discovered in any dig," says Mazar, "and just as startling as the medallion itself is the symbol of the sefer Torah next to the menorah. In all the scores of examples, of floors of ancient synagogues where a menorah appears, it has by its side the symbols of the shofar, of the four species [that are used on Sukkot] or other items, but on the gold Ophel medallion there is the rare symbol of the sefer Torah. This indicates to us that the medallion was used to adorn a real sefer Torah."
And as such, she says, it is the oldest known artifact of its type.
Why Were They Hidden?
Mazar believes that these treasures were brought to Jerusalem by Jews from abroad, who were told by the Persians, who had conquered the city in 614 CE, that they could once more settle in Jerusalem. This raised their hopes greatly, especially after the hundreds of years that it had been forbidden to Jews to settle there. She believes the coins may have been intended to purchase land, build synagogues, and perhaps even to build the Temple.

But the Persians began to lose power and then reneged on their offer, enabling the Christians to banish the Jews from the city.
Mazar: "The Jews who hid these objects probably had to run away, to save their lives, and they were never able to come back to rescue this hoard." So the treasures were buried, possibly with the dream that they would someday be redeemed. And now they are.

Mazar's past discoveries are documented in her books The Complete Guide to the Temple Mount Excavations (2002) and Discovering the Solomonic Wall in Jerusalem: A Remarkable Archaeological Adventure (2011). Oded Borowski of The Biblical Archaeology Review wrote, "One of the crown jewels in Mazar’s still-young career is her discovery of a wall that was likely part of ancient Jerusalem’s fortifications during the tenth century B.C.E., believed to be the time of King Solomon."
And now there are more jewels to add to that collection. For along with the medallion were found earrings, bracelets and 36 gold coins. Some of the items had remnants of fabric on them, indicating that they were at one time packaged in two separate cloth purses. The coins were scattered, as if left in a hurry; the other items seemed carefully packed away. Mimi Levy, Head of the Preservation Laboratory at Hebrew U., describes how she had to use very fine scalpel blades, working very delicately, to clean the items, all done under a microscope.
Numismatics expert Lior Sandberg says that this is only the third gold hoard of coins to be found in Jerusalem in the last hundred years, and is a phenomenal discovery on its own. There are ten coins from the 4th century CE and 26 coins from the 6th century CE, ranging over 250 years, from Constantine II to Mauricius.
Ancient Hebrew Script, a Cave and Head of a Lioness
Mazar considers one of her most important finds during the previous digging season a piece of pottery with writing on it, originally believed to be Canaanite or Jebusite writing. In fact, an entire theory was developed by researchers about how David and Solomon must have understood the importance of having scribes in their courts who knew other languages, but Mazar says, "In fact, when more research was done, they discovered that it is the most ancient Hebrew script ever found. The pottery seems to have been used to hold wine, but it was wine for cooking, not for holy services."

Another exciting discovery is described in a short film by Brent Nagtegaal, instructor in history at Armstrong College and Mazar's supervisor of the Area B digs (there are three areas). The cave that is being excavated in the Ophel area was originally an ancient water cistern with entrances from three different directions, used during the first Temple period, situated beneath first Temple houses.

But as Mazar's team dug in different directions, they discovered that there were also layers from the Herodian period, walls that had been built later, and that in addition to those walls were tunnels that had been built into bedrock, with signs of hand and foot holds, and places where candles would have been placed.
Josephus describes tunnels such as these, in The Jewish War, about how the Jews tried to create places to hide during the Roman siege on Jerusalem, so they would be able later to escape. Nagtegaal points out that at some point a few of the tunnels stopped, only 20 centimeters in, and he conjectures that it was at that point that either the Romans broke through, or the Jews thought they had no more time and would have to hide themselves.

Unfortunately, we know from history that even the desperate digging of the tunnels did not rescue them from devastation.

On the first day of the 2013 dig, they also discovered a sekhmet figurine. It has the face of a lioness and a human head. They have found several of these and are studying what role they played in Jerusalem during that period of 10th century BCE.

In a small country like Israel, as miraculous as the discovery of the golden treasure, is the fact that for five months the entire excavating team kept the secret until Mazar revealed it to the world on Sept. 9.

Fourteen centuries after Jews buried their precious treasure and fled from the persecution of Christians, young Jews from Israel and young Christians from abroad are working with a veteran Jerusalem archeologist to uncover the story. The seven-stem menorah, created for the Holy Temple and depicted on the arch of Titus in Rome as a symbol of the Jews going into exile, is today the official symbol of the State of Israel.

It would seem to be the fulfillment of the Biblical verse "Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people." (Isaiah 56:7).
This new part of the Ophel site will soon be open to the public, so that all can partake of its wonders.
For some of the information in this article, the author was directed by Dr. Mazar to the project website: www.keytodavidscity.com. The author is an award-winning theater director and editor-in-chief of WholeFamily.com. Her daughter directs the sifting crew under Dr. Mazar.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Wed 25 Sep 2013, 4:48 pm

Putin and the Torah
Rejoicing with the Torah because it is an exceptional book that has made us exceptional.
Till now the best definition of chutzpah was probably that given by Leo Rosten in his classic work, The Joys of Yiddish: “Chutzpah is that quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."
In the aftermath of the by now infamous op-ed piece in the New York Times by Vladimir Putin, the Russian President might well be a serious contender for the title.
Speaking out strongly against a possible military response by the United States against his Syrian ally for the monstrous crime of using internationally forbidden chemical weapons, Putin dons the mantle of ethical advisor to offer us what he calls “A Plea for Caution from Russia.” Head of a regime known for its indifference to human life, its support of totalitarian dictatorships, and its history of hostility to religion, Putin has the gall to close his piece by reminding us that “when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

The man who has been providing heavy weaponry to Assad’s regime, the better for them to batter towns and villages filled with civilian women and children, and who has systematically blocked any UN Security Council action – even to reprimand Syria for its many wanton crimes – feels no shame as he offers hypocritical pieties. Sanctimoniously, Putin claims to stand variously with the Pope, those who honor international law and seek regional stability, human rights activists and peace-loving people throughout the world. Perhaps the only thing missing from his piece is a reminder to those who might publicly disagree with him that their fate might be the same as that meted out to the members of the feminist punk band who were imprisoned for being insufficiently respectful to the Russian leader.

Reaction to this highly unusual op-ed was almost unanimously negative. Vice President Biden spoke for many when he said it “made him want to vomit.” But one point Putin made did strike a chord. For those who live by the ideal of political correctness it served to open a widely disseminated discussion. Perhaps, comes the voice of the naïve swayed by beautiful sounding platitudes, Putin was correct when he criticized President Obama for putting forward the idea of American exceptionalism.
“It is extremely dangerous,” Putin wrote, “to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.” Exceptional means better. And that idea – the idea that some people can rise above others by dint of hard work, uncompromising commitment to personal growth and steadfast adherence to sacred values – seems anathema not only to communism but to many who live by the creed of cultural relativism.

For them nobody is better than anybody else. No people have greater claim to moral superiority than any others. Exceptionalism is a dirty word.
Jews need to take pride in the fact that it has been our Torah that served to civilize the world.
As politically incorrect as it might be to say it, we need to remember that exceptionalism is the key to civilization, and we Jews need to take pride in the fact that it has been our Torah, our teaching of morality and ethics that served to civilize the world.

Emmanuel Kant did not hesitate in expressing the exceptionalism of the Jews and the Jewish Bible: “The existence of the Bible as a book for the people of the world is the greatest benefit which the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against society.”

The Catholic writer Thomas Cahill was so overwhelmed by his study of the Jewish contribution to world civilization that he authored what proved to become an international bestseller, The Gifts of the Jews. The Jews, he concluded, literally transformed the world.

The Jews not only discovered monotheism, but they then explained why that made God different from all the pagan gods worshiped until that time. The Jewish God is above nature; witchcraft and sorcery simply have no meaning for Jews. Such practices suggest that humans can manipulate God. A God who can be manipulated is made in man’s image. Jews believe the reverse, that man is created in God’s image.
Cahill believes that the ultimate breakthrough in humanity’s understanding of God came with the Jewish perception that God “is a real personality who has intervened in real history, changing its course and robbing it of predictability.” God is more than the Force of Star Wars; he is the “I” of the first commandment: “I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.” God interacts with man and intercedes in history.
The Jews not only introduced the world to God but to his book as well. The Torah, transmitted from Moses to the Jewish people, has nurtured Christianity and Islam, Judaism’s two daughter religions. Its teachings provided the soil for democratic ideals and the seeds of Western civilization.

From the Torah, Cahill explains, the world learned the meaning of spirituality. Pagan gods, being physical, wanted physical things from their worshipers. Not so the God of the Jews. As Cahill puts it, “God wanted something other than blood and smoke, buildings and citadels. He wanted justice, mercy, humility. He wanted what was invisible… There is no way of exaggerating how strange a thought this was… The word that fall so easily from our lips – spiritual – had no real counterpart in the ancient world.”

That is why the Bible continues to be the world’s biggest best-seller. And that is why we have a special holiday dedicated to rejoicing with the Torah, Simchat Torah.
It is a holiday whose very theme is exceptionalism. It is the exceptionalism of our ancestors who stood at Sinai and responded yes to the challenge of accepting the Torah when the rest of the world was as yet unwilling or unready. It is the exceptionalism of our people who in spite of persecution – and oft times even martyrdom – held fast to those values which God proclaimed as the only reason for the world’s continued survival. It is the exceptionalism of Torah that stands above all other works written by man, whose divine truths illuminate our path and make life worth living.
We rejoice with the Torah on Simchat Torah because it is an exceptional book that has made us exceptional – and if that bothers President Putin, perhaps that gives us all the more reason for celebrating.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Sun 08 Sep 2013, 8:25 pm

The Three Angels
I was determined to indulge my non-kosher craving. But God had something else in mind.
by Shulamit         
In the Torah we learn of the three angels who come to visit Abraham and Sarah (Genesis, chapter 18). To all outward appearances, the angels are three men on a journey, and Abraham receives them the way he would receive any mortal guests. Only later does he – and we – realize that the men are really messengers from God – they are angels.
One of the many things we can learn from this narrative is that sometimes what may look like an ordinary human being is, in reality, an angel. To illustrate this concept with a personal example, I will take you back to a time – about three decades ago – when I had recently started to keep kosher. This was a very difficult thing for me to do. I had already been keeping Shabbat and many other mitzvot for a long time, but keeping kosher was the biggest hurdle of all.

I was constantly beset by temptations and cravings for dishes that were no longer on the permissible menu, and finally I thought I would follow what the Talmud says regarding a person who is possessed with the urge to sin. If he can no longer contain himself, let him put on dark clothes, go to another city where he will not be recognized, sin, and be done with it. This is definitely not what the Rabbis recommend, or even sanction, but if need be, the Evil Inclination will even pervert the meaning of the Talmud in his campaign to ensnare us. I kept thinking, Just once, just one last time, to kiss it goodbye.


So I went, not to another city, but to a big, anonymous supermarket in another neighborhood, in pursuit of the forbidden fruit. As I approached the counter where the desired item was sold, I suddenly caught sight of two Jewish women of my acquaintance, who were standing right in front of that counter. They were deeply engrossed in conversation and blocking my path. I was well known in the Jewish community of my home town, and I was certainly not going to let anyone know about my embarrassing culinary proclivities!

I decided to bide my time. I wandered off and bought some vegetables and then tried again, but the ladies had not moved from their spot. I made another round. Still there! This kept on for quite a while, until, at long last, the coast was clear; I could make my purchase and retire home to my guilty pleasures.
There was still one more dish I was hankering after like mad. The next day I decided to get that out of my system as well, with one final indulgence. But this time I was determined to be smarter, so I went to a suburb, to a supermarket where I never normally shopped, certain I would not encounter any familiar faces.
As I was sitting there on the bus, bound for my unlawful goal, minding my own business, a woman suddenly plonked herself down on the seat next to me. “Hello!" she said, "how are you?”
What do you know – it was the mother of one of my bat mitzvah students. We talked, and when I got off the bus she did too, and I suddenly realized that she actually lived in this suburb. Great! As “luck” would have it, she was also bound for the food market. Super! We walked along the aisles, filling our baskets with various – kosher – products, and the woman didn’t budge from my side! Finally we passed, together, through the cash register, and only outside on the sidewalk did she leave me alone. She said goodbye and walked off, and I returned to the store, bought what I came for, and headed back home for my illicit party.
And then it hit me.
If I had lived in Biblical times, I might have described these events a little differently, maybe something like this:
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“And it happened in those days that I walked upon the path of iniquity. But behold – two angels of the Lord appeared before me. And lo! The angels spoke unto me and they said ‘Get thee hence, be gone from this abomination, and run not after the lust of thy heart!’ But alas, I heeded them not, and I sinned. And on the second day I followed my evil desires anew. And behold, the Lord sent an angel to walk with me and lo! The angel spoke unto me and it said ‘Woe is thee, that thou runnest after the lust of thine eyes! Walk with me on the path of righteousness.’ But alas and alack, I hardened my heart and I heeded it not, and I sinned.”
In those days people – even sinners – were more finely attuned to Divine messages, and when it pleased God to send them an angel or two, they sat up and took notice.
I cannot describe how devastated I was when I realized what had happened. These three women had come in my way for a purpose; they had been messengers from God. The women were clearly angels that He had sent me in order to prevent me from transgressing, and their very presence “spoke” quite eloquently to me. God had made every effort to keep me on the right path, but I had not been receptive, I had not listened to the message. The worst thing was not that I had eaten forbidden foods –bad enough as that was – but that I hadturned a deaf ear to God and “hardened my heart.” That was what crushed me. (Need I say that I never ate treif again?)
So it seems that we can all be angels, at times through an act, a word, or even just a smile that is bestowed when one is needed. Sometimes, though, as in the case of my three "angels," all it takes is to be in the right place at the right time. If we can remain conscious of this, it is one of the things that can make our lives very meaningful – to know that even when we are committing no heroic acts we may still, at any moment, be the emissaries of God, carrying within us the message that can change another person's life for the better.
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Post  Admin on Sun 08 Sep 2013, 8:00 pm

The Good Gene
Attaining at-onement this Yom Kippur.
by Rabbi Benjamin Blech         
All my life I have started my daily prayers with the following inspiring words:
“My God, the soul you placed within me is pure. You created it, you formed it, you breathed it into me, and you guard it while it is within me.”
Our tradition assured me that I was basically good. Not a tabula rasa, an empty slate with no particular leaning towards sin or saintliness, as some philosophies would have it. Not with an innate drive for evil rooted in any primeval original sin, as other religions might preach. No, deep down there is an instinctive pull within me to the moral, to the ethical and to the honorable.
Reaffirming it every day has made it easier to cope with the inevitable temptations that come my way. After all, being good can’t be terribly difficult if it simply means that I’m letting myself be the “real” me.
Incredibly, a recent study has scientifically validated this religious conviction. I can’t imagine why it hasn’t received far more publicity. To my mind it may be one of the most theologically significant insights into human behavior. And if properly understood and taken to heart, it has the power to move mankind in ways never before imagined.
Different forms of happiness were associated with very different gene expression profiles.
The source is a study published last month in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Coming from the world of science, it doesn’t deal with souls. That isn’t something anyone has as yet learned to identify or calibrate. Instead, its subject is genes.
As summarized in an article in The New York Times with the intriguing title,They Know When You’ve Bene Good or Bad:
“Our genes may have a more elevated moral sense than our minds do… They can, it seems, reward us with healthy gene activity when we’re unselfish – and chastise us, at a microscopic level, when we put our own needs and desires first.”


To speak of genes having a moral sense seems almost preposterous. But here’s what researchers from the University of North Carolina and the University of California did. They first had a “goodly” number of volunteers fill out a questionnaire asking them if they felt satisfied with their lives, whether they considered themselves happy, and, if so, to identify the cause of their greatest joy. They followed this up not with more questions, but by looking at the underlying cellular mechanisms that affect mood and health or, more specifically, the gene-expression profiles for the volunteers’ white blood cells.
Genes direct the production of proteins which jump-start other processes that control much of the body’s immune response. And here was the shocker: Different forms of happiness were associated with very different gene expression profiles.
We tend to use the word happiness indiscriminately, without any reference to what kind of pleasure we’re experiencing or the reason for our delight. It didn’t take too long however for the researchers to recognize a distinct difference physiologically between two kinds of joy.
One is what we would call hedonistic. It’s the result of eating a great meal, enjoying a fine scotch, or experiencing physical intimacy. It’s the body’s reaction to self gratification.
But there is a wholly different category of happiness for which we have the term eudaemonic. It is rooted not in getting but in giving. It is the happiness that comes from the sense of fulfillment that accompanies living a life of higher purpose and service to others. Even as it makes demands on the body and often times stands in the way of physical enjoyment, it succeeds on a higher level. It is the joy felt by a surgeon physically drained after a grueling but successful 12-hour operation. It is the joy felt by the rescuer of a drowning child, weary to the point of exhaustion by his efforts but overwhelmed by the knowledge that he was instrumental in saving a life. It is the joy felt by someone who has made a significant financial contribution, even more than his personal finances would allow, to a cause that epitomizes his highest values.
Our genes can tell the difference between a purpose-driven life and a life limited solely to the goal of self-indulgence
The researchers determined which of the volunteers were happy as a result of hedonistic or eudaemonic reasons. To their amazement, those whose happiness was primarily based on consuming things and physical gratification “had surprisingly unhealthy profiles, with relatively high levels of biological markers known to promote increased inflammation throughout the body. Such inflammation has been linked to the development of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They also had relatively low levels of other markers that increase antibody production, to better fight off infections.”
And those whose happiness stemmed from acts of kindness, communal service, or commitment to a higher cause? They had profiles “that displayed augmented levels of anti-body- producing gene expression and lower levels of the pro-inflammatory expression.”
Stephen W. Cole, a professor of medicine at UCLA and senior author of the study, concluded to his own astonishment that “our genes can tell the difference” between a purpose-driven life and a life limited solely to the goal of self-indulgence, and goes so far as to reward the former and biologically express its disapproval for the latter.
Allow me to put it in more spiritual terms. God created us in his image. God created us for a purpose. We weren’t placed on earth merely to be parasites. We have responsibility to others. We are implanted with an ethical and a moral code. And our genes know whether we are being true to our core identity that is rooted in sanctity.
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As we approach the awesome day of Yom Kippur we can find new meaning in the name by which it has become contemporarily known in English, the Day of Atonement.
The word atonement can be divided into two. Yom Kippur is the day of 
At-Onement – the day in which we become one with God.

But now that we know the remarkable truth that our genes are motivated by a moral imperative we can go a step further. It is the day of At-Onement not only because we become one with God. By heeding the still small voice of the pure soul that God has implanted within us, we achieve the greatest blessing of all-At-Onement with the deepest recesses of ourselves and the spark of Godliness within us.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Sun 08 Sep 2013, 10:12 am

Building Trust in God
The ABC’s of strengthening our connection.
Rosh Hashanah is a time when we coronate God as our King. This means we realize that we are part of an enterprise run by God, and we are here to help bring the world to the destiny for which it was created.
The purpose of our creation is to connect to God and build a relationship with Him. So, how do we develop a relationship with the King of Kings?
Love and trust are intertwined in any significant relationship. You can't have a relationship with a person you can't trust. If you're not sure this person has your best interests at heart and truly cares about you, the love will erode under layers of disappointments and hurt.
What causes you to trust someone? If you know that your parents have cared for you from the moment you were born, have provided you with all your needs as best they could, you learn to trust your parents. If, however, your parents have let you down time and time again and have failed to provide you with basic physical or emotional needs, you will not trust them, you reject their demands of you and resent that they exert control over your life.


Appreciation
I make dinner for my family almost every night of the week, do their laundry, buy them their clothes, mend them if they need to be fixed, and many more things on a regular basis. However, my children, even the older more mature ones, rarely thank me. (In fact, the only one who consistently thanks me for every little thing is my 9 year old with Down's syndrome). Interestingly, my Shabbat guests thank me profusely for the one meal they eat at my house. Why the discrepancy?
When you receive something from time to time, inconsistently, it is natural to recognize the gift and appreciate it. But when you receive so much, so often and consistently- you start taking it for granted.
And when that happens, you stop appreciating. And when you stop appreciating, it is as if you never received anything. It is as if it never happened. The act of giving isn’t deposited in the emotional bank-account of the relationship. There is no history built in this relationship.
The thing you will see about appreciation is that it engenders more giving on the part of the giver, and therefore more blessing for the recipient. I know that when my husband and kids thank me and appreciate dinner, it makes me want to invest again in a nice dinner. But if I go for weeks making dinner unappreciated, I can hear an inner voice saying, "Maybe I should cut back a little and make them fend for themselves for a while. Then they’ll appreciate the dinner I make!"
This is more than my need to be appreciated. Since I want my kids to be happy, I need to teach them to be appreciative. A sense of entitlement leads to misery. Gratefulness removes resentment and frustration.
God is like this with us as well. If we go for weeks without appreciating, noticing or thanking God for what He gave us, He pulls back and gives us a lack so that we can learn to appreciate what He’s been giving us. .


Build a History of the Relationship
If you were to take the time to think about it everything your spouse does for you and genuinely appreciate it, you would be suffused with a general sense of trust and happiness. You’d realize how much this person really loves you. This would then provide a context within which to evaluate those rare occurrences when you have been let down or disappointed by this person. And you’d be more likely to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt.
For example, let's say you are being honored at a dinner and your husband says he will meet you at the event at exactly 7:00pm. It’s now 7:45pm and he is nowhere to be found and doesn't answer his cellphone. Your reaction will largely depend on the emotional context of your relationship. If your marriage is filled with lack of trust, you will interpret his tardiness as another demonstration of his lack of care, and be angry and resentful. If your marriage is strong and full of love and trust, you’ll be in a panic, frantically calling hospitals.
With God, the process works in much the same way. We need to ensure that our relationship is built on a strong foundation of love and trust that comes through appreciating all the good He has done for us. That builds the history of the relationship.

So start by writing down a “grateful list.” If you are like most people in the world, the top 10 things on your list will be:
A brain, which allows me to sense, move, function, think and talk.
Lungs and the ability to breathe.
Eyes that see.
Ears that hear.
Functioning legs and arms.
A functioning mouth to taste food and speak properly.
A functioning digestive system.
My family (each member can be a separate item).
My spouse.
A job.
And you haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of all the priceless things you have in your life that God has given you. How much would you be willing to sell an eye for? A million dollars? How about one of your children? Silly to even imagine. God has already given you the equivalent of billions of dollars before you even get to the kitchen for your morning coffee.
Reconnecting to the good God has done for you and feeling His love will largely determine how you interpret difficult situations.
Reconnecting to all the good that God has done for you and feeling His love will largely determine how you interpret difficult situations, when God so to speak doesn’t show up on time. Your inner voice may say something like this: I know God loves me more than I can imagine; He is flawless and infallible. Everything He does is for my good. My limited perspective does not enable me to view this particular painful experience, right now, in a positive light. But intellectually I know that all that happens to me is ultimately good and perfect.
The greater the appreciation we have, the greater that knowledge will seep into our consciousness and make us more trustful and more connected to God’s love.
Communication
Once you can see clearly how much God loves you and wants your best, you have to maintain this relationship and newly found trust by communicating. Communication is the foundation of any strong relationship. When you talk to a spouse, a parent or a child, you strengthen the bonds between you. When you ask your child to do something for you and then verbally thank them when they comply, or thank your spouse and compliment him for giving to you, the foundation of trust and love is built and fortified.

When it comes to God, this is equally important.

At the start of every day, take a few moments to articulate to God, in your own words and language, your needs for the day. Then, watch for God's response. Thank Him if He gives you what you asked for. If you wished to be granted wisdom to resolve a conflict with a difficult person at work, and over the course of the day you had a decent conversation with this person or reached a level of clarity, which resulted in resolution of the conflict, take a moment and thank God! If you received a gift of value right after you asked God for help with finances, acknowledge that your prayers were answered.
If on the other hand, you miss a train or encounter difficulty during the day, ask God: What are you trying to teach me? How can I grow from this experience? I know you love me, so how is this for my best? You'll be surprised how quickly you get an answer to your query or your difficulty disappears.
Ask God for help on a regular basis, even for mundane things. I will often hear my two-year old walking around the house chanting quietly: "Hashem, please help me find my shoes." Or in a crowded mall parking lot, as I get frustrated driving around in circles: "Ima, you forgot to ask Hashem, please help us find a parking spot!" And inevitably we will find the shoes and the parking spot, and take notice of God’s involvement in our lives.


Do it!
Even if you don't have this down pat, and you feel rather awkward with the whole "trust" thing, just do it! It's like "trust falls" – just let go. It's an exercise you can try and get better at with practice. See if it works.
There's a verse in Psalms that says: "God is your shadow." Just as a shadow reflects back to us whatever we show it, nothing more and nothing less, so too God relates to us in the way that we relate to Him. If we behave like we trust God, and pull back on our efforts, even if we're not sure of our beliefs, God reflects back to us that trust and rewards us in kind.
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Expect the best
Like a Dad would grant his child's wishes if the child trusted him and fully expected him to acquiesce, even if the child wasn't really deserving, so too God "lives up to" our expectations of Him. If my kid approaches me with a prelude: "I know you won't listen to me," or "I'm sure I'll hate dinner again tonight," all desire on my part to satisfy him dissipates. It says in the book of Job: "What I have feared will come to me" (3, 25). If we show God we fear and worry, it shows a lack of trust and then God allows our fears to come true.
On the other hand, if my child says, "Ima, I know you love me so much and always give me what I want, even if I don't deserve it, so can you please give me that really big candy bar?", my resolve to be strict or calculating melts in the face of this love and trust. So too, God responds with giving us what we want, even if we don't necessarily deserve it, when we expect it and trust Him unequivocally.
The principles that apply in building a trusting relationship with others apply equally with God. Let's use these tools to create a foundation of trust and love between ourselves and our Creator and be part of bringing the world to its ultimate destiny this Rosh Hashanah.
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Re: AISH

Post  Admin on Sun 18 Aug 2013, 7:01 pm

I Have a Dream
Where is our dream today?
by Sara Debbie Gutfreund
This coming week will be the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historical speech in Washington D.C. Many people don’t know that MLK did not prepare the “I have a dream” parts of his speech. He made up those paragraphs on the spot as he stood before thousands of people who came to rally for the ideals of freedom and equality.
“I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self–evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”


There were hundreds of Jews that day in August marching in Washington D.C. to support the African American fight for freedom. We joined in protests, and we were a part of the civil rights groups in universities across the nation. Judaism teaches that every person is created in the image of God, and we have always been willing fight for this ideal.
Over the years as Jews have become more integrated and comfortable in American society, it is rare to find discrimination against us just for being Jewish. Today we can be the heads of the emergency rooms and the congressmen and the top CEOs in the country. But anti-Semitism is stronger than ever; it just sounds different.
It sounds like this: I have nothing against Jews, but Israel is messing everything up. If only Israel would stop fighting, there would be peace in the Middle East. If they would just stop building… If Israel would just give back the land already… It’s not called anti-Semitism; we call it Middle East politics. We call it the ‘peace process.’
Martin Luther King said at the conclusion of his speech, “And when this happens, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing ‘Free at last.’” So today, I too have a dream
 I have a dream that one day the world will recognize the Jewish homeland with its capital city of Jerusalem. I have a dream that one day Jews will be able to ride their buses and walk their own streets without fear. That they will be able to raise their children in peace and bring the light of Torah into the darkest of corners. I have a dream that one day we will judged by the depth of our souls instead of the surface of our appearances. I have a dream that one day we will be able to build our homes without international protest. That we will be able to keep the terrorists who set out to kill us behind bars. That we will be able, almost 70 years after six million of us gave up our lives just for being Jewish, to live in our own land without rockets flying into our schools.
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I have a dream that one day we will know the difference between illusion and truth. Between comfort and happiness. That we will come to understand that we cannot make changes without pain. That we cannot achieve anything without sacrifice.
I have a dream that we can confidently state our purpose as the Jewish nation. That we will no longer be the target of the world’s hatred. That peace will come once they stop killing our children. That terrorists will remain imprisoned while we live safely in our borders with dignity, surrounded by the sacred beauty of our land, as a united people. I have a dream that one day we will be able to bring the sweetness of the Torah to the ends of the earth. I have a dream that one day we will all serve one God together in Jerusalem.
We are all created in His image; let us live up to this incredible potential. I have a dream today.
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